Spetsnaz gig

Last Sunday I went to the Out of Line Festival at the Islington Academy, primarily because I wanted to see Spetsnaz, but I was also interested to see Hocico, the other headline act, and perhaps catch some of the three support acts.

When we arrived, however, we found that the bands had been held up by Customs and were about eight hours behind schedule. Additionally, Hocico, the main headline act, would not be appearing at all, as they had not been allowed into the country! All four remaining bands, therefore, had to basically get off the bus and straight onto the stage with no time to sort themselves out or to soundcheck. They all did a very good job under the circumstances. I think all three support acts had their sets cut very short, but that didn’t bother me too much. By that time I just wanted to get a sense of what they were like, not sit through three full support sets.

Whilst we were waiting for the bands to appear, the DJ did a good job of keeping us entertained with an excellent variety of industrial dance tunes, including some tracks with videos projected onto the large screen. I particularly enjoyed Pussy Gang by Pzychobitch Vs. Electrixx [warning: you probably shouldn’t watch this if you are at work], which I hadn’t heard before.

Then the bands started to come on, about two and a half hours late. Din [A] Tod were pretty crap, and Ashbury Heights were quite nice and melodious. Then, two serious-looking men came onstage. One of them, who could easily have been mistaken for The Terminator, sat at the drum kit. The other one grabbed the mic in a businesslike manner and bellowed, incredibly loudly, ‘WE ARE PROCEED… FROM GERMANY!!!!!!!!‘ They immediately launched into a series of hard electro-industrial songs with very shouty vocals. They were very funny (unintentionally), but also rather entertaining and satisfying.

I’d been really looking forward to seeing Spetsnaz, and they were very enjoyable when they finally came on. I’d never seen them live before, and it was interesting to see that they were quite charismatic and camp, and they had a good sense of humour (as opposed to the terrifyingly serious Proceed (FROM GERMANY!!!!!!!!) before them). They played live drums, which is quite exciting; but, a problem with live drums on tight electronic music is that they can sometimes sound rather messy and out of time, which happened a few times here. Anyway, it was good, and I would definitely go and see them again.

Mac OS X Leopard review

Installation

I’ve installed Leopard on both my Macs. The installs were very smooth, and there was only one incompatible third party application (the Last.fm application, although they’ve already updated that now so it works with Leopard). This is incredibly impressive for a new operating system, especially considering the quantity and range of third party applications I use, including VPN Tracker (VPN clients are notorious for breaking as a result of operating system changes).

Overall look and feel

This has changed for the better. Everything is crisper and cleaner. Active windows stand out more clearly. All windows in all applications now look the same in a pleasantly minimal way, with no more candy stripes or brushed metal (thank god). The transparent Menu Bar is a little odd, and has caused annoyance for quite a few people, but I rather like it.

The Dock

When I first saw the new Dock, I initially thought ‘what the hell is that?’ but after half an hour I had got used to it and had started to quite enjoy its shiny reflective transparentness. An alternative version of the new Dock can be enabled via a hidden preference setting, however, and I have to admit that I use this alternative version on my PowerBook at work. This is because it’s less distracting and provides more visual clarity, but it still looks beautifully minimal and ‘glowey’. Apple ought to add the option to use the alternative Dock to the Dock System Preference.

Previously you could drag a folder or a disk onto the Dock, where it would be visually represented by its own folder or disk icon, and then you could right click to get useful cascading menus containing the contents of the folder and its subfolders. Unfortunately, all this functionality has now gone. Instead, when you drag a folder or a disk onto the Dock you get a Stack. A Stack is visually represented by the icon of the first thing in the folder, which is generally much less useful than the folder icon. When you click on a Stack you get a ‘fan’ or a ‘grid’ of icons representing the items within that folder. There is no way to navigate to submenus without just opening them in the Finder, which is poor. On the plus side, the fans and grids appear very snappily and are a very nice way of finding individual items within a particular folder, which is particularly good for the Applications and Utilities folders. Generally, however, there is a great deal of room for improvement with Stacks.

Finder

The Finder was in need of significant improvement, and it certainly is a lot better now. Spotlight is integrated more smoothly. There are more options available to alter icon size and layout, and it is possible to enable a pane which shows the full path to your current location. The sidebar looks much better and is filled with all sorts of useful things conveniently placed in submenus, including saved Spotlight searches which work like Smart Playlists in iTunes or like Smart Mailboxes in Mail. The new Cover Flow view – which works like its equivalent in iTunes – is very cool and genuinely useful when flicking through certain kinds of documents, particularly images and videos. Apple’s most impressive addition, however, is Quick Look, which enables you to instantly view the contents of a document in a popup window. This works with many kinds of documents including images, videos (fully playable with audio), PDFs, Microsoft Office documents, and so on. Quick Look is very impressive, and it’s a real time saver.

Apple have also made some significant background improvements to the Finder, including its overall speed (much snappier now), and multithreading for device removal (so you don’t have the spinning mouse pointer of doom for ages whilst waiting for external drives and network shares to be removed). Some people have complained about the new folder icons in Finder, saying they’re too drab. Personally I rather like them – they are usefully minimal and informative but still pretty. A more major problem, however, is the serious bug in which data gets lost if you move files to an external drive or network share then disconnect the device during the move process. I imagine Apple will sort that one out pretty quickly.

Spaces

This is the first virtual desktop implementation I can remember using for a long time which actually works properly. It is extremely well implemented and functions exceptionally well. I am making extensive use of it at work, and it has increased my comfort levels and productivity significantly. There’s not much else to say about it. Just turn it on, tell it how many virtual screens you want, and away you go.

Terminal

OK, so this isn’t a thing most people are going to care about, but hey; it’s my review, and I’m not getting paid to write this, so I can do what I like. I love the improvements Apple have made to the Terminal. Tabs, Settings Profiles and Window Groups do everything I’d hoped they would, enabling me to set up layouts for groups of servers which appear instantly, with me already logged into all the servers, from just a click of a button. These improvements, especially in combination with Spaces, make for a very happy System Administrator.

Safari

You now get much more control over what happens with tabs and windows, which was much needed. Also, there’s now the ability to cut bits out of web pages to make your own custom Dashboard widgets, which is really useful.

Mail

Mail is smoother and snappier, and the sidebar is laid out more usefully. There are various other small but significant improvements such as the ability to select from a drop down list of mail servers when composing and sending an email. These are all very good things. Unfortunately, however, two of the big new features are, in my experience, quite badly broken. Adding To Do items is fiddly and complicated, and the way that To Do items added in Mail show up in iCal is unintuitive and messy. I’ve given up trying to use them in Mail. RSS feeds are also rather confusing because you have to add them in Safari first then transfer them over to Mail otherwise they won’t synchronise over .Mac (a fantastic service which I’ve grown very dependent on). Once you’ve done all that, they don’t update properly, and sometimes the RSS drop down menu just disappears completely and requires a restart of Mail. Not good at all. To Do items and RSS feeds are features I really want to be able to use, so I sincerely hope Apple sort them out in the first update of Leopard. Hopefully they’ll at least get rid of the bugs quickly, but they also need to improve the functionality.

iCal

I make extensive use of OS X’s calendar application, so I was pleased to see it’s been cleaned up very nicely in Leopard. Generally excellent, apart from a minor bug in which To Do items sometimes disappear off the bottom of the list when you’re trying to edit them, which I’m sure Apple will soon fix.

Front Row

With Leopard, Apple have finally made Front Row available on Macs which do not ship with an Apple Remote. Having bought a Keyspan Front Row Remote, this means I can now use Front Row on my Mac Pro, and it’s ABOUT BLOODY TIME. It works really well, and it means I can now sit back in a comfy chair or on my bed and watch videos, view photos, listen to music, etc., all with a simple remote control and without having to touch my Mac at all. Some people have complained that the interface is apparently less good than it was before Leopard, but to me it seems very nice. It’s reminiscent of Windows Media Center to the point where I assumed this was where Microsoft stole their idea from, but my friend Darien assures me that Windows Media Center came first, so perhaps this is a rare instance of Microsoft innovating something and Apple following suit. It would make a nice change if this were the case for once. Anyway, the only problem I’ve had is a bizarre bug where Front Row would keep switching my monitor off every few seconds, but that was solved by switching off the Front Row screen saver. Again, I imagine that Apple will sort this out in the first Leopard update.

Boot Camp

If for some reason you want to run Windows on your Mac, now you can. Boot Camp makes it very easy to install Windows on your Mac and then reboot into Windows at any time. I haven’t experienced any problems with this, although I haven’t used it very often. For many, though, it’s probably not as good as running something like VMware Fusion, which allows you to seamlessly run Windows application within OS X, thus (thankfully) taking away the need to reboot and run Windows as your main operating system.

Time Machine

Some reviewers have said that Leopard is worth £85 just for Time Machine alone, and they’re right. Apple are deservedly receiving a lot of praise for providing a backup solution that’s incredibly simple, powerful, and actually quite sexy. All you have to do is plug in an external hard drive, say yes to the popup asking you if you want to use this drive for Time Machine, and away it goes. To restore a file you’ve accidentally deleted, just find the relevant folder in Finder and click the Time Machine button, then you’ll be transported to a pretty screen in which you can flick through all the previous versions of that folder until you find the one containing the lost file, at which point you just press a button to restore. This also works directly from certain applications as well as from the Finder. Additionally, if your main hard disk gets trashed, you can rebuild a system from your Time Machine backup using the OS X install DVD. Time Machine is simply brilliant.

Other things

There are many other changes in Leopard that I haven’t mentioned, most of them good. There are many tweaks in other applications and improvements to System Preferences. Some of these changes are minor and some are very significant. For example, Apple have added a lot of cool stuff in iChat, but unfortunately I don’t get to use iChat much because most of my friends and colleagues use MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, etc., so I use Adium instead of iChat for instant messaging, because it’s a third party application which handles multiple IM protocols.

Conclusion

Firstly, there are a number of bugs that need sorting out. This is invariably the case for every new operating system when it is first released, regardless of who makes it, and early adopters must expect this and tolerate it. I hope and expect that Apple will remain true to form and rapidly fix the bugs I’ve mentioned in the first update for Leopard. I imagine they will then look at making functionality improvements based on what will undoubtedly have been a large amount of user feedback regarding the problems with the Dock and with Mail.

Problems aside (and, as I say, I don’t imagine many of the problems will be there for very long), I really like Leopard. The changes and improvements are many and significant. It looks great, improves productivity and makes using a Mac even more of a pleasure. As soon as the bugs I’ve mentioned have been ironed out, I’d advise all Mac users to buy themselves a copy and start enjoying the improvements. Whilst you’re at it, get yourself an external hard drive, plug it in, and start making use of Time Machine straight away.

Leopard is excellent, and incredibly good value for £85.