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ATPM 16.03
March 2010


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by Mark Tennent,

He, the Usurper, Must Choose

Later this week, two of us are driving a few hundred miles to HQ to be shown the new database which will be implemented on April Fools’ Day. A date which is inevitably going to be a joke when it’s something to do with new computers and software, all going live at the same time.

Our office’s pathetic ADSL can only dribble data up the line at a steady half megabit; we can envisage long gaps between pressing the button and something happening. Currently, only one computer (mine) has a live connection to the servers somewhere in London’s Docklands. The others link via a server in the room next door that updates every 15 minutes.

Getting them all connected is going to be interesting. Especially as we are likely to be having replacement machines because our current ones are too slow to run the new stuff. Hopefully they will come with something better than Windows XP.

Then, someone in the IT department said I could probably have a Mac if I wanted one. Hurray! Our main software is Lotus Notes, which runs in Java and is cross-platform. On the Mac, Open Office or NeoOffice will do everything Excel and Word can do, and my own copies of QuarkXPress and Adobe Creative Suite let me install them on two computers.


Hang on! There’s a big snag. I was going to slope off back to my own studio to do the newsletters and magazines. My design and publishing background has let me usurp that role from its current holder (who wasn’t disappointed to lose it). What a dreadful decision to have to make: have a Mac at work and miss working from home, or stick with a PC.

It will depend on the operating system the new office machines arrive with. If Windows 7, which seems to my untrained eye to be a rip-off of Mac OS X, it might be worth living with. Shame it isn’t Unix-based as well; Microsoft missed a trick by insisting on going their own way with a proprietary hodgepodge costing gazillions to develop.

Is it worth having to show my colleagues how to operate a Mac? It would seem our kids get no training in using computers at school and barely scratch the surface of their software and hardware. Instead they rely on IT departments to set them up. How many more times will colleagues ask for a calculator and have to be shown where it is on their computers? And, come to that, on their cell phones too.

Mirror, Mirror

But back to driving halfway round the M25 for a meeting which could easily be unnecessary. The head of IT has already shown me the database by mirroring his computer’s desktop on my work PC, demonstrating all the new areas and ways of working.

Like our kids not being shown how to word-process, my managers don’t appear to understand the power of video-conferencing, mirroring desktops, instant messaging, and the like. Instead they chuck tons of CO2 at the UK’s carbon footprint as they burn round the motorway system from meeting to meeting.

All new Macs and Apple monitors have one-click access to iChat audio-video conferencing through the camera at the top of the screen. Screen sharing is easy too, with a tweak in a control panel. Or via one of the many free utilities such as LogMeIn.

User Friendly

I expect Windows 7 will have it all but doubt our office’s Dell replacements will come with cameras. Even if they do, it will probably be a chore to get them working, trying to find the right device driver and entering arcane numbers into dialogue boxes. This will all be in the name of “user choice,” a term which Microsoft chooses instead of “interface designer’s laziness.”

This week we had a long three-way video conference with our son in Chicago on his birthday. The video was a little blocky at times because we were all thousands of miles from each other, but more so because we were using wireless Ethernet to laptops. The networks occasionally struggled to keep up with the amount of data passing back and forth as they competed for bandwidth with desktop Macs and iPhones. These checked for new mail every few minutes, did online householding tasks, and all the other stuff we never normally notice.

But it was a lot cheaper and easier than flying half-way round the world. So, should I ask for a Mac or not?

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