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On iMacs, Chrome OS and Life in General…

My disorganized thoughts about my new iMac 27" i7, Chrome OS and why I haven't been updating my blog...

Man – it’s been forever since I updated my blog! I’ve wanted to write more frequently, but here’s the situation: I write on average between 8 and 10 blog posts a day between my full-time job at Mashable and my side-gig with AMC Theatres (check out the Script to Screen blog here), that’s a lot of words per week. By the end of the day, I’m usually just genuinely too tired to write more. Plus, I want to be able to enjoy my evenings with Grant and whatnot.

Given that I’m actually able to call writing my career — which is amazing — I’m pretty OK with the fact that my personal blog gets neglected. But that’s why updates are few and far between — because I’m getting to write about technology and movies every day as part of my job.

OK, so since I last posted, a few things have happened in the world of technology, let’s go down the list:

  • Apple announced its new product line, including what I have been waiting for: a Quad-Core iMac, and at 27″ wiht an LED IPS screen no less!
  • I ordered said 27″ iMac i7, waited 18 days of delivery, was in love and beside myself with excitement — until I tried to hook it up to a second monitor and found out the miniDisplayPort was broken. So my beloved beauty must go back to Apple and they are sending me a replacement. I won’t get the replacement until around the 4th of December because the demand is high (and as I said, they didn’t even ship the machines until a good three and a half weeks after they were announced, for the i5/i7s anyway). Apple is letting me keep the defective one until then, but I won’t be able to be fully comfortable with my new toy for almost two more weeks.
  • Google finally unveiled it’s much hyped Chrome OS and the whole technology world has gotten itself into a tizzy over what it is and what it isn’t and what it could be and all kinds of other shit.

So before I talk about Chrome, let me talk about the iMac.

27″ iMac i7 Review, Take One

As I said, I couldn’t help but be like totally, totally disappointed that I have to send my beautiful machine back, especially after waiting for it for so long. I bought the 27″ i7 as a 27th birthday gift to myself and got it just one day after my birthday.

Aside from the miniDisplayPort issue, the machine is amazing. The screen is beyond compare — and the thing is fast. How fast? Let’s just say that coming off of my two-year old BlackBook, I’m simply amazed at how much faster certain tasks are. If a program has been optimized for multi-cores AT ALL, it really shines. For instance, doing screencasts of live web video used to be a laborious process. Like, it would take hours to export the result from either Camtasia or Screenflow. On the i7 it literally flies. It’s amazing. I can’t wait for Adobe to come out with Photoshop CS5 that actually takes advantage of this stuff. Likewise, I can’t wait for more and more apps, especially multimedia apps, to really take advantage of multi-cores, hyperthreading and other awesome stuff.

I opted to install an extra 4 GB of RAM myself in the machine (I paid $60 shipped to get the RAM from Newegg, whereas it would have been another $200 or so if I got Apple to do it) and I have to say, the installation process couldn’t have been simpler. Before I even turned my Mac on for the first time, I put the new RAM, giving me 8 GB of DDR3-1066 RAM. I’m in heaven.

I got a Magic Mouse a week before I got my new iMac, so I was familiar with that — but I have to say, the combination of the screen and the mouse is really nice. I can’t wait for more gestures to get written into the Magic Mouse. I know that a lot of people I respect have panned the mouse, and the Logitech MX probably is a better pointing device, but the Magic Mouse is sexy, easy to use and feels good in the hand. Plus, I have my Wacom tablet if I need to do any precise, precise stuff anyway.

The alumnium keyboard is the same as what I’ve been using for a year with my MacBook hooked up to an external monitor and it remains a joy to type on.

Sound from the speakers is excellent, though I’m looking at getting a separate set anyway. The machine is amazingly quiet for all of its horsepower. I mean, according to the GeekBench results, this thing is very closer if not better than a base level Mac Pro. So I’ve got a Mac Pro (minus the expandability, yes, but I don’t care about that more than for RAM) inside one of the nicest displays available on the market.

I really can’t say enough about the screen. I know that once I get my working unit I’m going to really be able to see the difference between my $220 HP w2338h and this beauty — which is why that display will be relegated to holding my e-mail, Adium and maybe Campfire. I’ll leave the big screen for everything else.

As for why I need two screens when 27″ is so big? It’s not so much for size, but because I like to segment and separate some of my tools. I like having my mail up at all times, but I don’t want to have to battle with it and other windows. On my old setup, my MacBook screen simply served as a place for Mail.app to live. Because the smaller display will now be 23.5″ and 1920×1080, I can put a lot more on it and thus leave my beauty for TextMate, Photoshop and web browsers, which are the three programs I have open at almost all times (well that and LittleSnapper).

A lot has been written about the Apple Tax and the value proposition and whatnot, but I think that with the new iMac lineup, even at the 21.5″ level, but especially when you look at the i5 and i7 machines — it’s hard to argue that you aren’t getting your money’s worth.

Yes, I paid $2600 for my computer ($2660 with RAM), but I’m getting something that I couldn’t get anywhere else, and at Dell, two separate pieces, with a monitor that isn’t as good, would cost me MORE money.

I’m in front of a computer for at least 8 hours a day (10 is more accurate), having something fast, reliable and with a great, great screen really makes the difference, I just wish there was a Blu-ray option already. I hate that I can’t use this to watch my growing Blu-ray collection. But that’s OK, I have the amazing LG BD 390 Network Blu-ray Disc Player for that! Seriously, if you are looking for a Blu-ray player this Christmas and you don’t have a PS3 (or don’t want one), this is the one to get. It has Wireless-N, Netflix, VUDU and YouTube support (I think Pandora is coming soon), can connect to your PC or Mac or NAS setup to stream media and has great, great quality. $260 for what is almost a complete home entertainment hub.

I’ll do something more in-depth after I get the final iMac in and I transfer everything over officially (I’m in this weird limbo space now where about 90% of my files and docs are transferred, as well as my most-used apps, but most of my media files are still on other drives and I haven’t installed all my programs. When I figured out the first day I actually was going to use this thing for work that the DisplayPort didn’t work, I kind of stopped doing the big transfer. I mean, I have to do this again anyway so why bother?

And here’s my unboxing gallery. Forgive the quality, I couldn’t find my digital camera and so I had to use my iPhone which is just not good with my office’s lighting.

Chrome OS Thoughts

This should probably just be a separate blog post, but I really just wanted to discuss in a non-Mashable setting some of my thoughts on Chrome OS. The day it was announced, I quickly got my geek on and compiled the source image (which first required having to download and install the latest Ubuntu and run that in VMWare Fusion 3), which wasn’t difficult, but was long and laborious.

Then I had to create the VMWare image — figure out how to get the file from my VM to my desktop (not as simple as you’d think — I ended up just DropBoxing it which was faster) and then created a new VM from that image.

After playing with it a bit, I did like 5 screencasts, and sadly, this was the best take — despite my umming, uhs and actual technical problems. Whatever, I was on a deadline. I will say my ass-busting paid off because we had a hands-on first look at least 6 hours before any other major site (or minor site that I could find). I also got to flex my geek muscles (hey, compiling the kernel and building the image wasn’t difficult, but come on, that’s still totally geeky!), which is always nice.

So my first thoughts, which I shared on Twitter, was how disappointed I was that what we saw in Google’s demo wasn’t what the source was. It’s not that that isn’t completely and totally typical, but it just makes even contemplating developing anything for Chrome OS hard if you can’t even get a true baseline of how stuff works.

But the bottom line is this, everyone calls this a big threat to the desktop as we know it and representative of a big paradigm shift and blah blah blah, and you know, in another 10 years, that might be true — hell in 5 we might be closer to fruition, but as it stands right now, I can see Chrome OS succeeding, but where it will succeed will be in a completely separate and new class of device.

Gruber made a comment about how Chrome might be considered as a bicycle that replaces that second, rarely used car — and you know, that would be a very Larry Ellison way of looking at stuff — and maybe someday that will be true. However, right now, I don’t see it as a bicycle replacing a car — I don’t think it’s robust enough to be a bike. I think it’s a VESPA you get to tool around in but that you don’t ever seriously consider using for more than just certain things. It isn’t going to give you the flexibility of a bike, in terms of where you can take it (subways, winding trails, various terrains) or give you the exercise benefits, but it is a fun excursion and can often get you someplace faster than a car or a bike could depending on where you are and what you are trying to get to.

For the foreseeable future, I don’t think I see Chrome OS as something — that at least as it exists now and as it will exist according to Google’s demo — as something that even netbook owners — and netbook owners are used to making lots of compromises for perceived price/weight/convenience advantages — would be willing to compromise and use with any frequency.

This is why:

First, while Chrome OS and Android are often compared and conflated (and maybe eventually they will even morph into the same product), they are very different. Android, while deeply flawed (and I say that as someone who was a strong advocate and wants it to succeed if only to offer Apple real competition in the mobile space) in many of the ways it is executed, is still a fully robust platform. I may not like the default UI decisions, I may think the decision to basically take JIT, do something in the compiler so that it isn’t JIT by the legal definition, is stupid because I think Java is what is really limiting a lot of the development ideas and innovations and I might question the already splintering market of sub-Android brands, but Android is a platform.

Right now, Chrome is not a platform, it’s a thin client built into a Linux kernel. It has the potential to do web multimedia extremely well — especially with Flash and Silverlight both getting more into utilizing GPU and hardware acceleration — and the web in general very well, but despite our reliance on the web, the web still isn’t everything we do with computing. Don’t get me wrong, I could not survive without some sort of Internet access. I mean, I could literally, but I couldn’t work and most of my communication methods would be severely limited.

That said, I’m writing this entry in Mars Edit, not in WordPress’s window, because I both don’t like and don’t trust WordPress not to crash on me. I write my Mashable and AMC posts in TextMate (and Mashable uses WordPress, but the different linking and other stuff I like to do works better in TextMate, whereas I prefer Mars Edit for my personal writing) for the same reasons — and because I get added functionality that just isn’t available in a web-based text editor yet. Maybe someday, but not today. I do all of my graphics work, even light stuff, in Photoshop. I edit my photos in Aperture or LightRoom. Granted, I’m not the average user, but I would still rather my mother use iPhoto than Picasa or Picnik.

Google actually talked about stability and security as a perk when it comes to Chrome, but as I said on Twitter, in the more than two years that I have used Mac OS X full-time, I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually LOST data when it wasn’t my own fault (like when I’ve deleted my iTunes library not once, but twice — or when I’ve incorrectly closed a window without saving). However, I can’t even count how many times I’ve had web browsers, be it Firefox, Safari, Camino, Opera, Internet Explorer or even Google Chrome crash on me and take everything I was working on with it.

Firefox is often the nastiest culprit for that one — though that’s on the Mac, on the PC Firefox is much more stable — but even Safari pre 10.6.2 was pretty crash-happy too. Even Chrome, which is designed to like kill one window not the whole browser, often doesn’t do that — at least in my tests. So if I’m going to rely on anything to keep my data for me after a crash, it’s not going to be a web browser. Sorry.

Then there’s the issue of speed. Chrome is going to be fast because a) there’s almost nothing to it and b) they are going to require it to use SSD drives in the beginning. Now that’s smart, but that’s only part of what defines speed for users.

It’s pretty much accepted that the iPhone 3GS is one of the fastest smartphones on the market. The N900 may or may not be faster, the Droid is about the same speed, though the iPhone loads web pages faster when the network isn’t a defining factor. The iPhone 3GS is no slouch in the speed department, but even on WiFi, loading web pages can sometimes take a bit of time. This doesn’t bother me because I understand that my phone is not going to be as fast as my computer. The smaller size of the screen and the compact nature make it totally easy to rationalize and justify differences in speed.

Here’s where netbooks end up causing their owners problems. The netbook has better hardware than the iPhone, but because it has a bigger screen a bigger keyboard (and the screens and keyboards are getting bigger and bigger all the time), people expect it to be faster than it is. Thus, you get people wanting more from the device than it can offer. That’s why netbooks, at least Atom-based netbooks are probably going to disappear sooner rather than later. On the low-end you’ll have ARM and on the higher-end, you’ll just have low-priced, lightweight actual laptops. Grant has an Acer that has a Core Solo and can take up to 4 GB of RAM, that thing is great — and was only a little bit more (we’re talking under $100) more than a netbook. And it came with Windows 7 Home Premium!

Anyway, I think the push for ARM in netbook style computers is going to be met with utter disappointment from consumers — especially if Flash isn’t hardware accelerated when they launch. Since this is Chrome’s target, I think that traditional laptop styled devices are not going to work.

This is what I see: Something like a tablet but with a more defined purpose: like call it a media pad. Something you could use as a remote control, for instance — an eBook reader (that isn’t as good as eInk) and a visual TV guide. Yeah, you can watch online content and surf the web, but it’s designed to sit on your sofa and be like what we use phones for now — but bigger and with the understanding that you need to be online at all times.

In any event, as Chrome OS stands now, it really isn’t useable in any test form, other than for shits and giggles, but the fact that it exists is pretty cool.

And yes — at long last, the mammoth blog entry comes to a close.

I’m out!

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12 people have left comments

tonybynoe - Gravatar

tonybynoe said:

This could have easily been 3 separate blog post, you somehow rolled them all into one. Sorry you’ll have to return your new iMac, otherwise your post could’ve been much longer, as you would’ve been able to go into much more detail on the performance, ooohs, ahhs & blaahs. When you get the replacement, do a follow up post to this one, only just write about the mac in that post. I couldn’t agree with you more about how disappointing the Google Chrome OS is when it was revealed last week and I watched that vid you did on Mashable on said OS. That vid underlined the dashed hopes of many who anticipated another killer creation from Google. Finally, don’t worry about the large gap in between post on your own blog. This is understandable given the workload you now have to endure.

Posted on: November 22, 2009 at 11:26 pmQuote this Comment
Christina - Gravatar

Christina said:

Thanks for reading Tony! I plan on doing a fully-formed Mac post as soon as I get the replacement. Had I known this entry was going to turn out how it did, I think I would have done it as two separate posts — but by the time I got to the end, I didn’t feel like rewriting the beginning. But I’ll totally do a separate iMac post once I get the new one.

Chrome really was a disappointment, and for me, it’s not because it’s so new, it’s because it was so oversold — and Google needs to take a lot of that responsibility. That hasn’t stopped the pundits from calling it the next big thing, and like I said, it very well could be — but I think it’s place will be on a different, new class of device, not on the desktop.

Posted on: November 22, 2009 at 11:38 pmQuote this Comment
Remy - Gravatar

Remy said:

Christina,

While I did not have issues with the mini display port, my 27″ does have one major, deal breaking flaw. The screen has a very light (but noticeable) yellow tint (or warmer color temperature) starting from the middle to the bottom of the screen. It is difficult to notice at first, but if you are a graphic artist who stares at pixel by pixel everyday… it’s a very different story.

If you can do me a favor, go to this link,

http://tapplox.com/imac-led.html

There are two grey bars on that page created with basic html/css. Color wise they should be identical. But looking closely, on my IPS panel tells me that my iMac display may just well be defective. I am considering to get the 24″ ACD if all the new iMacs are like this.

Nice review, by the way. Nice photos!

Posted on: November 23, 2009 at 12:14 amQuote this Comment
James Sarkar - Gravatar

James Sarkar said:

I completely agree with yah on Chrome OS, it is such an overhyped product, i mean why and how can it be a next big thing just right now! I do understand the fact total computing off the cloud is pretty innovative but I feel this is too early for such innovation. What if your you want to play something demanding like Crysis and GTA4, are the textures rendered and sent over from the cloud or is it sent over as is. What about the bandwidth then 16GBps per channel? Fine even if we don’t use all that of PCIe so what? Then do they expect we download a dvd everytime we watch it and what about a BDs then! Then what about the fact when we not online? I mean wifi is everywhere and soon WiMax but even then we are still not in a blanket of HiSpeed internet all over, even at the most region you might not get a cell reception. And what if I wanted Firefox or Safari and even hell God forgive me, IE what then? Can i run Photoshop or Visual Studio? No i need a web application to the same. Now, has web dev gone so far as application developed for system? The idea overall is innovative and like you said it should be for a different class of devices I totally agree with that. But the time for Chrome OS a default standard on a desktop is OS or even on the netbook which it will ship with is for now very far fetched.

and btw Christina great article and neat pics of pretty apple at flickr 😀

Posted on: November 23, 2009 at 12:26 amQuote this Comment
Alex - Gravatar

Alex said:

Great review. Did your first iMac have any of the screen noise problems that others have been complaining about? Any high pitched whistle linked to the brightness of the screen? Apple still haven’t admitted to the problem existing, despite lots of customers returning their new iMacs and asking for replacements.

Posted on: November 23, 2009 at 4:54 amQuote this Comment
Justin Sellars - Gravatar

Justin Sellars said:

I have to disagree with your thoughts on netbooks. They do have their place in this run of the mill electronics filled life. Many of my classmates use netbooks for note taking, basic word processing and surfing the internet. Netbooks are built for one purpose and that is to give basic functionality to the user for very little cost. I can purchase a netbook for $200 maybe a little less and will function exactly how I want it to with regards to office suite programs and surfing the internet, I don’t expect it to handle photoshop or any modern game for that matter. Those looking for more out of a simple device like this needs to just get a laptop and move on with life.

I wouldn’t mind picking your brain on your thoughts with the Android OS as I’ve recently purchased the HTC Hero and love my phone along with the apps on its OS I’m currently using. I’d liked to know the flaws you see in the OS itself and such.

Posted on: November 23, 2009 at 7:07 amQuote this Comment
Christina Warren - Gravatar

Christina Warren said:

Justin Sellars said: I have to disagree with your thoughts on netbooks. They do have their place in this run of the mill …

Justin, I actually think you make a valid point — I guess what I see happening (and what I think is already happening) is that the netbook “market” as it were is splintering. Sure, you have a very small number of these $200 devices, but most of them are often under-specced at $200 (and by under-specced, I mean they have an 8 GB SSD drive, and frankly, 8 GB doesn’t even offer enough reliable swap for most Linux distros, not to mention running Windows). $280 – $320 is where I see most of them priced, and that’s with your basic N270, 1GB and usually between an 80 – 160GB HD all in varying screen sizes with variable battery life. I’m not saying that those machines aren’t perfectly suitable for taking to class, but as value proposition, they are disappearing, and here’s why: So about two months ago, Grant (my fiance), bought a not a netbook, netbook for just under $400. It’s from Acer and has almost an identical form factor as their 11.6″ netbook line — like, I think it actually might be identical for the keyboard;trackpad. It has an LED backlit screen, mutli-touch touchpad, 250GB HD (which he swapped with a 320 he had for even MORE space), a Core Solo processor (considerably more oomph than an Atom), 2 GB of RAM (which he expanded to 4 for almost nothing), Wireless-N, web cam, the works. It even came with a Vista Home Premium license and free Windows 7 Home upgrade. That machine (that had the better battery, I might add) was seriously about $70 more than the Atom variant that had less RAM, a smaller hard drive, the Atom, Win XP, no LED display and the smaller battery.

It’s not going to be long before Core Solos and Core 2’s (especially the 45nm Core 2s) become cheap enough to put in low-cost, ultra-portable machines. At that point, you see the market splinter into the sub-$200 category that will be dominated by ARM (and even then, I imagine will probably be sold in large part with wireless contracts) and the ~$400 ultra-portable notebook that gives the space/weight advatages of a nebook but can actually run Windows 7 and play back Hulu without choking, plus handle higher-definition streaming video that a netbook can’t even begin to answer.

So yes, I think these lower-cost devices have a place, but I think that the market has shifted to slightly pricier/better performing models rather than going as cheap as possible. And the reason they’ve done that is because I think people have expectations from something that looks like a real computer. When it doesn’t behave that way, they push for more power. That’s why I think Chrome OS devices have to be different. Even if it’s just a marketing difference, it has to be different.

As for Android, that’s for another post — but suffice to say I think the platform has tremendous potential, and in actuality, if anyone is getting it right right now, I think it’s HTC, not Motorola. The Droid might be getting all the love because of the screen and because it is using a faster processor, but I think the Sense UI and the other investments HTC has added to their lineup, especially the Hero/Eris is pretty awesome.

Posted on: November 23, 2009 at 7:42 amQuote this Comment
Christina - Gravatar

Christina said:

Remy (man I need threaded comments), I’ve run that test and here’s what I’ve been able to gather, and I think part of this might be associated with how I view the monitor, so I don’t know how it is in every case — but while it does appear like there might be some unevenness in the lighting, I’m not getting any yellowish tinge. It does seem a bit darker towards the bottom of the screen, but again, I don’t know if that’s just because of how I view it or what. But at least on this one, no yellowish tinge and if there is more shadow on the bottom, if could be associated with other stuff.

Honestly, if my displayport wasn’t borked this thing would be perfect!

Posted on: November 23, 2009 at 9:33 amQuote this Comment
Robert - Gravatar

Robert said:

I have to say I have a low level dislike of Crome – as much as I tend to enjoy most of Googles other stuff, Chrome has not been one of them.

Posted on: November 24, 2009 at 4:25 amQuote this Comment
Remy - Gravatar

Remy said:

Christina,

Since this is LED backlit display, the lighting should be uniform across the entire screen. With IPS, it should also have the consistent colors and lighting no matter which angle you are looking at the screen. Having said that though, I would still trade “yellow tinge” for “slight darkness”, but neither should be there. Most non IPS monitors have more color variations and lighting unevenness so the average user probably won’t notice these issues.

I am going to try getting replacements for both our i5 and i7s a little later… hopefully the newer batches won’t have these problem. It’s a shame because everything else is working so well! I am already missing the magic mouse that’s been packed up.

Posted on: November 24, 2009 at 3:50 pmQuote this Comment
Torley - Gravatar

Torley said:

Christina, you got a great price on your iMac’s RAM too — now it’s risen up to $90-100.

Thanks for sharing your experiences (enjoying your gift guide in another tab) and if you need help with screencasts, feel free to ping. It’s what I do for a living + playing: http://www.youtube.com/torley

Posted on: December 5, 2009 at 7:02 pmQuote this Comment
goofydg1 - Gravatar

goofydg1 said:

I can relate to having my personal site suffer because of so much writing for others. My site has turned into a graveyard for my twitter stream with an occasional post containing extended thoughts. Still, I take some solace in that those that watch my site still find it useful because of the redirect links to interesting things. At least those that aren’t into twitter.

I find that I’m reading quite a bit of your stuff at Mashable. Nice work.

Posted on: December 10, 2009 at 3:04 pmQuote this Comment