Posts made in April, 2010

Transmit 4 Review

Posted on Apr 27, 2010 in Mac, Opinions, Reviews, UI Design

For years, one of the most popular OS X FTP applications has been Transmit. Panic’s FTP workhorse is so well regarded and robust, it’s engine was even chosen by Apple to power the FTP upload feature built-in to iWeb.

But OS X has gone through a lot of changes since Transmit 3 was first introduced and the app is starting to show its age. Enter Transmit 4!

This latest update adds a completely new user interface, innovative new features like Transmit Disk as well as a slew of customisation options. I was fortunate enough to be a beta tester for version 4, so I’ve had a few weeks to play with the new version – here are some of my thoughts.

New UI

Panic is know for their sleek user interface design and attention to detail and Transmit 4 is no exception. First off, the biggest change of them all: A NEW TRUCK!

But the logo isn’t all that has been refreshed: The entire app feels brand new. Most UI elements have been given a 2010 update and the interface feels a lot tidier.

You start off with a list of your configured servers that uses a sleek black look that was made popular by apps such as PixelmatorCoverScout 3 and SongGenie (disclaimer – I work for equinux).

You can choose an icon for your servers, or use the server favicon

Selecting a server puts you into a familiar file browsing mode – more on that below:

Buttons and features are usually exactly where you would expect to find them and unobtrusive animations and pretty icons round out the package and give the app a nice touch of Panic personality. Here are a few bits of eye candy I noticed during testing:

Progress indicator

Breadcrumb navigation

Nice use of icons in the replace dialog makes it clear which file you need to replace

File Browsing, Places & Quick Look

An FTP client fundamentally has two jobs: show me my remote files and allow me to move files between my local and remote storage. To accomplish that, an FTP application has to replicate a lot of the functionality of a regular file browser, so users can browser their local files as well as their remote files.

Transmit 4 offers single and dual file-browser layouts, (rearrangable!) tabs and the icon, llist, column and cover flow viewing styles you are familiar with from the Finder. But it also has a few additional tricks up its sleeve, that you won’t find in the Finder.

Here are some of the more interesting file browsing options:

  • Folders above Files changes the sort order, so that folders are always displayed before your files in a view
  • Quick Look makes it easy to see a file’s content and even works with remote files stored on your FTP server
  • Places can store shortcuts to your most frequently used folders, so they are just a click away. You can also drag files to a Place shortcut.

Places give you quick access to commonly used folders.

Places is really useful, but the way you add locations by dragging them to the breadcrumb area is a bit unconventional. Once you’ve figured it out though, it quickly became one of my favourite Transmit 4 features.

Transmit 4 offers enough view options to suit almost anyone’s preferred file browsing style. Whether you perfer to work with multiple windows, tabs, split layouts, column view etc – Transmit 4 has got you covered. While it’s debatable whether most users need so many options, file browsing habits are usually so ingrained that it was probably a good idea for Panic to include as many options as they could.

DockSend, Droplets, TransmitDisk and more…

Most of the time, I find myself uploading files to the same place over and over again. Transmit has a number of ways that give you an easy way to send a file to your FTP server straight from the finder:

  • Drag it to a custom droplet you can create in Transmit 4
  • Enable Docksend and you can drag it directly to the Transmit 4 icon in your Dock
  • Turn on TransmitDisk…

TransmitDisk is a nifty new feature, that uses MacFUSE to allow you to mount your FTP server as a volume that the Finder can see. Once mounted, you can interact with your FTP folders like you would with a drive on your local network.

In my experience this worked fairly well, but occasionally felt a little bit more sluggish than using Transmit’s own file browser – but your mileage may vary.

Conclusion

Overall this is a great upgrade to an already very useful application. The new features are well thought out and make working with your FTP server a lot easier and faster. While this isn’t a revolutionary upgrade, it is solid enough to make it worth your while.

You can buy or upgrade to Transmit 4 in the Panic Online Store.

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Intel X25 SSD: The ultimate MacBook Upgrade?

Posted on Apr 25, 2010 in Mac, Reviews

Let’s be honest: most of you reading this have wondered how to improve your Mac’s performance at some point or another, whether it was while waiting for an application to load, or just the last time you saw the spinning beachball of death. For years conventional wisdom has been that adding RAM to your Mac would give you the most noticeable performance improvement.

But nowadays, RAM is no longer the primary bottleneck on your Mac – it’s the aging, mechanical technology that powers your harddrive. But conventional mechanical harddrives are slowly but surely being replaced by solid state drives (abbreviated “SSD”). Whilst early SSD drives offered limited storage capacity and had a finite number of read /write cycles,  The current generation of Intel X25 SSD drives are very compelling alternatives indeed…

Pros & Cons

Although still pricy when compared against conventional harddrives with similar capacities, SSDs have steadily been dropping in price and now only cost about 100-200 dollars more than a conventional drive. So what are the benefits? Well, speed primarily: SSDs offer blazingly fast read and write speeds. And unlike conventional drives, that can be damaged if jostled or dropped whilst in use, SSDs are extremely sturdy, making them ideal for notebook computers.

Installing the X25-M

It took me about 10 minutes to swap the stock Fujitsu harddrive in my 13″ MacBook for the X25-M. You basically pop the battery lid, unscrew one screw and pull your old drive. Slot the X25 into its place, close everything back up again and you’re done!

As my previous harddrive was larger than the 80GB review unit I received, I opted for a clean Snow Leopard install, instead of trying to partially migrate my data and settings from my Time Machine backup. The entire OS X installation was very fast (~10 minutes) and after a quick Dropbox sync, I was up and running with my most important apps and documents.

Crunching the Numbers

Intel’s X25-M is currently considered to be one of the best SSD drives on the market and the raw numbers tend to agree:

So how do the numbers translate to your everyday, real-world experience? I mean, are you really going to notice if Safari loads 0.4 seconds faster? Probably not.
But in my experience, the big difference wasn’t that any single task felt much faster, it was the fact that everything felt faster. Whether copying a file, opening a DMG or launching an application – everything feels very responsive and snappy.

Here are two videos to give you an idea of what to expect:

Cost vs Benefit

All this performance doesn’t come cheap though: the 80GB review unit I tested currently retails for about €200 / $250. The larger capacity models can be several times as expensive. But if you use your Mac professionally, installing an SSD is an easy way to give your Mac a speed boost. The Intel X25 is ideal for professionals and performance junkies who need the highest possible performance. Enthusiasts and casual users might want to look at some of the cheaper alternatives on the market instead. They still trounce the performance of a traditional harddrive, without making too large of a dent in your wallet.

Conclusion

The Intel X25 is a fantastic upgrade for your MacBook and will boost the speed of even mundane things like opening an application. It’s ideal for performance fanatics and professionals, casual users may want to wait a while longer until the price / capacity ratio improves.

Support the site and pimp your Mac with an Intel X25 from Amazon.com:


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Three things on the iPad that feel rushed

Posted on Apr 19, 2010 in iPad, Opinions, UI Design

Most people would agree that the iPad is a fantastic 1.0 device. This is of course partly due to the shared iPhone OS heritage, but the overall experience is nonetheless is extremely well-rounded and polished.

But there are a few areas that feel a bit crummy, when compared with the rest of the experience. Considering how many apps Apple had to completely overhaul for the iPad’s presentation in January, it’s no surprise to find a few rough edges, on the otherwise fantastic device.

File syncing

I understand why Apple is hesitant to add any kind of file system to the iPhone OS, but considering how much emphasis was placed on the iPad apps at launch, you would think that they would have come up with an elegant way to get documents on and off your iPad.

Unfortunately, in reality it’s a huge pain. Ted Landau took the time to document all the steps it takes to actually get a document into iWork on your iPad, none of which are particularly intuitive. Plus you then have the hassle of managing revisions and tracking multiple copies of the same file.

The iPhone app SimpleNote and Notational Velocity on the mac show how document sync can be done right. Some apps are also adding Dropbox support, which gives you an idea how file sync in general could be improved. Given the fact that Apple has already done a lot of the hard work by creating the MobileMe and iWork online services, one can only hope that we’ll see seamless, cloud-based file syncing added sooner rather than later.

Safari caching

If you open multiple tabs in safari on your Mac, switching between them is instantaneous. In mobile safari, you can never be sure whether the tab will open immediately, or whether it will need to be reloaded over your wifi or 3G connection. On the wifi-only iPad, where users can’t be sure they’ll always have access to an internet connection, webpage persistance is particularly an issue. The fact that Offline Pages (iTunes link) is currently one of the top free iPad apps in the App Store would seem to underline this point.

Mobile Safari’s limiting caching abilities are most likely due to the limited amount of RAM in the iPad, which has just 256MB, however as Rentzsch has pointed out, it should be possible to offload pages to the solid state drive as a workaround, although it’s not a trivial problem.

Calendar event creation

Making event creation in calendars difficult seems to be one of Apple’s favorite UI slip-ups. The calendar app on the iPad is gorgeously designed and it makes browsing through calendar entries a visual pleasure.

But the interface for adding entries seems to have been cut & paste directly from the iPhone version and doesn’t make any use of the additional screen real estate the iPad offers. You get the impression the designers spent all their time working on the rest of the UI and simply stuck the editing controls in there at the last minute.

Consistency between the two platforms is of course a good thing, provided it doesn’t slow the user down unnecessarily. I would argue that you could better use the iPad’s screen real estate to make a much more efficient and intuitive event creation UI.

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New Theme

Posted on Apr 19, 2010 in The web

Just a quick note to let you know I’m playing around with a different theme design for the blog. I wanted to go back to a traditional front page layout with all articles on a single page and decided to try a different style while I’m at it.

Let me know if you find any weirdness, or just what you think!

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iPad Fatigue

Posted on Apr 11, 2010 in iPad, Opinions

One of the ways you can measure the impact a device has, is by how frequently it’s used. A netbook, for example, might look like great device on paper, but a lot of early adopters seem to have switched back to using a full-sized notebook, whilst their netbooks collect dust.

The problem is feature overlap: if a netbook can do some, but not all of the same things a notebook can do – why not just take the notebook? You’ll need a bag to carry either, so there’s only a slight difference in size and weight to consider. Smartphones on the other hand can do some of the same things a notebook can do, but have a clear size and weight advantage, as well as a telephony features that a notebook doesn’t offer.

The iPad might suffer from the same problem as netbooks. It offers a lot of features offered by both other device categories, but it also presents these features in a new, multi-touch interface. But is the new interface and compact form factor enough to convince users to ditch their smartphones and notebooks for certain tasks?

Browsing some of the initial comments about the iPad, most users are initially very enthusiastic, as you would expect with most highly anticipated new CE devices. However, some users are already reporting that the initial excitement has worn off:

Jeff Jarvis tweets:

“After having slept with her (Ms. iPad), I am having morning-after regrets. Sweet and cute but shallow and vapid.”

Update: Turns out Jeff is actually returning his iPad:

[…] “(I) simply don’t see a good use for the machine and don’t want to spend $500 on something I’m not going to use.”

Funemployed entrepreneur Nat Friedman posts on Facebook:

“24 hours later, I must admit I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be using this thing for. The charm is wearing off.”

On a more anecdotal note, I recently had a few friends over for a party and they were playing with an iPad borrowed from work. Most of them were fascinated by the device and wanted one, but couldn’t really see much use for it apart as a “toy”.

Unlike the iPhone, which you always carry with you anyway, the iPad is something you need to actively seek out and use. With many people purchasing iPads without a clear idea what they’ll be using it for, it’ll be interesting to see whether Apple’s latest can win a permanent place in user’s day-to-day lives, or whether it will be yet another gadget collecting dust somewhere. My guess is that it’ll be the type of gadget you use regularly – just not as often as your phone or notebook.

What are your thoughts? Are you starting to get bored of your iPad – or has it already become indispensable?

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