I’m being tempted away from my Mac…

XP desktopMy step-mother has a Sony Vaio laptop that has to be about 5 or 6 years old and runs Windows XP. Her needs are simple, but she comes from a generation that really doesn’t get computers. She refers to the hourglass timer as a ‘christmas cracker’ and has no idea that Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer are entirely different animals. When I built the laptop for her I loaded it with all the necessary security software, but for someone who doesn’t have the intuition about what one should or shouldn’t do (or rather click on), then it’s a recipe for disaster (aka repeated ‘support’ calls).

Every so often I completely rebuild the laptop, but it’s only a stay of execution and it’s becoming obvious that she needs something a bit more modern, a bit more simple and a bit more robust. So I’m thinking about an iMac, a Mac Mini or perhaps even an iPad. Email, a very small amount of web browsing and online shopping, being able to look at photos and the odd brief document are all she needs and it seems that any one of these devices will serve her well. To this end I picked up an iPad for her, the thinking being that it was the one device that would do all of the above, be intuitive to use and free her up from locking herself away in a room (much to my dad’s dismay) when she needs to ‘compute’.

It’s a 32Gb WiFi model and I’ve been using it to see what it can do before offering it as her new computing partner (of course she’ll still need a PC/Mac running iTunes plus a wireless router, but that’s another story). I have to say that having had no intention of buying one myself, as I already have my Mac Pro and iPhone 3G, I am now rapidly changing my mind. Firstly, I read a lot of RSS news feeds using Vienna on the Mac. I do occasionally use Google Reader but Vienna gives me the clean interface I want and if you want a free (and ad-free) news reader for OS X then this would be my recommendation. But then there’s NewsRack on the iPad. I can laze on the sofa in the lounge and flick through my RSS feeds so easily, browsing in detail the articles I’m more interested in, or adding them to InstaPaper for later. Yes there are other news readers for the iPad, but NewsRack has a clean and intuitive interface that just seems really natural when you’re coming from an OS X (or even Windows) based reader. What’s more it does this whole Google Reader sync thing if you feel the need to read news feeds on multiple devices, plus has many other features besides.

Then there’s the mail app on the iPad. It works exactly the way you think it should and I find I can process 95% of my mail here, just resorting to the Mac where I need to do something a little more complicated. The result is that I can now go for days without using the Mac to do these routine things. There’s other things too… Weather Pro HD gives me detailed weather forecasts rather than having to use WeatherDock on the Mac. Osfoora HD on the iPad is now my preferred way of monitoring Twitter, while Nambu is my choice when on the Mac, and if I want to read a PDF I’ll generally be doing it in GoodReader on the iPad rather than in Preview on the Mac.

IMG_0013It’s not that the apps on the Mac aren’t any good, in fact they’re the best ones I’ve found in my years of Mac usage. It’s just that I don’t have to go and sit upstairs in front of the Mac to dip my toe into the computer world. What’s more, I’ll often find that when I start using the Mac just to do a quick email for example, I’ll often get sidetracked and then ‘waste’ an hour or two doing something I hadn’t intended to. With the iPad I pick it up, do the email or read the news then put it down. Having said that, the games on the iPad are pretty distracting!

Now don’t get me wrong, the Mac Pro is still great, and for content creation the iPad doesn’t come close. For starters, the WordPress app for the iPad is a bit of a lame duck if you ask me, and I’d far rather use the WordPress dashboard on the Mac to create or edit blog posts. Similarly, for photo editing and processing, long documents, spreadsheets, downloading, listening to music (even though SnowTape and Spotify can run on the iPad), and for many other more involved tasks, the Mac is still king.

So, when my step-mother takes this iPad off my hands will I be tempted to spend the money on getting one myself? Do bears sh*t in the woods?! Hell yeah…  Of course I could just recommend she gets a cheap Windows 7 laptop for her needs and keep this one, but I suspect the whole Windows support cycle thing will just start afresh, and I’m not sure my nerves could take it. Besides, if she has the iPad then there’s always AppleCare to ease my burden 😉

By the way, in case you’re interested here’s a few of my favourite iPad apps (note, clicking on links may prompt you to open iTunes):

  • WeatherPro HD – detailed weather for your location for the next seven days.
  • Pages – I’m just a sucker for being able to write stuff wherever I am, and as a Pages user on the Mac…
  • Life Browser – iPad Safari is good, but in many ways I prefer this.
  • Instapaper – great way to save web pages for later consumption.
  • NewsRack – elegant and intuitive RSS reader with all the right features.
  • Evernote – wouldn’t be without it, whatever device I’m using. (I think my brain is backed up to Evernote!).
  • DropBox & SugarSync – love ’em both and can’t decide which I prefer.
  • Osfoora HD – does all a Twitter client needs to do for me on the iPad (and lots more besides).
  • Magic Piano – I’m no impresario but this makes me sound like one!
  • GoodReader – is to PDFs what FireFox is to the web.
  • IMDb – how cool to watch a film and be able to learn more about it as you watch?
  • eyeTV – let’s me wirelessly stream recordings on the Mac to my, ahem… the iPad. It can do live TV too, but I’ve got a TV for that. (Note, you need eyeTV on your Mac for it to work).
  • tChess Pro – attractive and challenging chess game with all the features I need to remind me I’m rubbish at chess!
  • Angry Birds HD – ok you have to catapault various types of birds into pigs. Sounds daft, but it’s very entertaining and the sound effects are just lovely.
  • Words with Friends HD – sort of a multi-player (across the web) Scrabble clone. (Multi-player as in my friends can mock me with their prowess!).
  • Real Racing HD – first person racing game with incredible graphics and gameplay.
  • Hexius – a bit like Bejewelled but perhaps more challenging and complex… and with multi-player capabilities.
  • Soosiz HD – a platform game where gravity isn’t always what you’d expect. Good fun.
  • Monkey Island 2: SE – Monkey Island meets the iPad, this game is entertaining, funny and looks fantastic.
  • Osmosis for iPad – mesmerizing, challenging, addictive, relaxing, a must if you have an iPad.

IMG_0012And one final word on usability. The father of a friend of mine has Parkinson’s disease and finds it extremely difficult to interact with the world around him. Trying to show him photos on a laptop and to let him feel he has any sort of control was frustrating for him, and printed 4×6 shots were just too fiddly (let alone time consuming to create). It was great to put an iPad on his lap and to see him smile and enjoy the photos in a way in which he can be in control.

PS – Both iPad wallpapers are from VladStudio, a talented artist whom I heartily support.

Xobni for Mac OS X

XobniWhen I was a Windows user (over two years ago now), I used MS Outlook 2007 as my email client together with a great plug-in called Xobni. Xobni added features that allowed you to do all sorts of clever things, analysing your mail, showing you trends, info about your contacts, searching, etc., etc.

Now that I’m (mostly) a Mail.app user, Xobni is one of the few things I miss from my Windows days. In the early stages of the beta there was talk of Xobni being made available for other platforms like OS X but the emphasis was obviously on getting the Windows version cooked first. Two years on and sadly there’s still no hint of an OS X version ever emerging. I say sadly because Xobni has some great features, plus if figures are to be believed, Mac OS X represents something approaching 9% of the desktop OS market meaning there’s a LOT of Mac users and thus potential customers out there.

So if you’re a Mac OS X user and you’d be interested in a version of Xobni for the Mac then tell them, either here or by commenting on their blog, or by emailing them, or by commenting below.Who knows, with Office 2011 for Mac on the horizon, maybe a new version of ‘Outlook for Mac’ would be just the impetus they need for a Xobni plug-in?

PS, in case you’re wondering about the name – Xobni is ‘inbox’ spelled backwards.

Mail – Let me introduce you to my significant ‘Other’



I am NOT organized. No matter how much I try to fool myself that I am, I’m not. I have little bursts of being organized, but the effort usually wears me out quite quickly and I lapse into my old ways of never really quite having a handle on what’s going on. So for me, email was a mixed blessing. It started all those years ago with a single Hotmail account and then my free ISP POP3 account. Before long I had three more Hotmail accounts, an Inbox.com account, a Gmail account, two Yahoo accounts, an Orange account, an O2 account, and many more besides. I then hit on the idea of registering my own email forwarding domain that would allow me up to 50 individual email addresses plus one ‘bucket’ address that would catch everything else.

For someone who has a tenuous grasp on being organized, this was a disaster in the making. The theory was that any time I wanted to register with a new site or service, I would first have to create an email address in my new domain for it, then use that. It sounded good but very soon I was using generic addresses like ‘shopping’ or ‘finance’. Added to that, spammers would send email to random names @ my domain and so my inbox filled up with messages to ‘shdsluyqwv’ and the like. I tried in vain to use Gmail as a conduit for all my mail, but there was no way around two major problems I faced.

  1. I had to dream up new addresses before registering with any new site.
  2. I had no idea who the good guys were, and who was playing fast and loose with the email address I’d given them.

Now I have tried my fair share of email clients and services, but these haven’t been much more than straws to a drowning man (drowning in email that is). At the last count, I have something around 15 ‘fixed’ email addresses and three email forwarding domains (each with the capability to use 50 unique email addresses). No way is that healthy!

I had all but resigned myself to the fact that email would always own me and not the other way around, but a month or so ago I was watching the Crunchies (courtesy of TechCrunch) and this guy was talking about a problem. More specifically my problem!

Joshua Baer

Joshua Baer

His name is Joshua Baer and he was describing OtherInbox. To me this was commonsense on a stick! All I had to do was sign up and choose a username and password, and that was pretty much it. No more dreaming up emails and pre-registering them so I could use them and throw them away if they got abused. No more trying to remember which generic addresses like ‘stuff’ applied to which sites. No more trying to figure out who was sharing my email addresses with guys selling little blue pills. OtherInbox already had it covered, but how?

Well the premise is simple, your OtherInbox username is combined with otherinbox.com to become your own personal email domain. So for example if you chose joesoap as your username, your email domain would be joesoap.otherinbox.com. After that you can use any prefix your imagination can come up with and use it to register with sites and services on the web. So I could use ‘Amazon@joesoap.otherinbox.com’ to register with Amazon.com, and ‘poorfools@joesoap.otherinbox.com’ to register with the 10 Downing Street website, and so on. There’s no limit to the number of addresses you can create, you use names that make sense to you, and best of all you don’t need to set anything up in advance, you just dream them up and use them when you need them.

Then every time an email is sent to one of the names you’ve created, it’s put in a folder of the same name in your OtherInbox

Tame your email

Tame your email

mailbox. It does all the organizing for you, you don’t need to create rules to move messages into folders, it’s automatic.So that’s problem number #1 fixed, but what about spam? Well if I start to receive emails offering me university degrees or inexpensive medication in my ‘poorfools@joesoap.otherinbox.com’ mailbox, then I know exactly who has given away my email address. In addition to that, if the spam becomes too bad I can simply ‘block’ the ‘poorfools@joesoap.otherinbox.com’ mailbox. Job done!

If all this sounds too good to be true, well it’s not. OtherInbox really have come up with the commonsense approach to organizing your use of email addresses for you, but… I have only scratched the surface of what it can do. It has a great interface, it’s free, you can set up automatic notifications, you can point it at an existing Gmail or IMAP inbox, you can set up RSS feeds off it, you can do all sorts of things. So if you want to get geeky with it and lick its face, then head over to OtherInbox and check out what they have to say, and watch the video (link at the end). Then stick your name on the waiting list for an invite, you won’t regret it. By the way, if you’re wondering how I got an invite, well I follow OtherInbox on Twitter and was lucky enough to be there when they offered out some invites, so if you follow them too you might get in the door early.

Me? Well for once I’m going to sit back and let the technology do the work for a while, because getting organized starts here and best of all I barely had to lift a finger. Then I’ll think about sending Josh a Christmas card in 2009 by way of thanks, after all – I am organized now.

Watch the Crunchies video about OtherInbox here.