Here’s something to keep you busy over the weekend: The Ghostly Discovery App for iPhone. The free app allows you to create streaming playlists from the Ghostly catalogue by choosing a “mood” via a spectrum color wheel and a “style” via fader-like sliders. It’s sort of like Pandora but instead of picking a specific artist, you use the mood and style of the music you’re looking for as a starting point. And of course, you can find some Tycho stuff in there too. Check it out here
Update: Sorry, but as many of you pointed out in the comments, the app is not yet available internationally. Ghostly is working out the international licensing issues and it should be out soon. You can sign up to be notified when it is available by entering your email at the bottom of this page.
So, I’m sure most of you have heard of Delicious Library already, but the mastermind Wil Shipley released the iPhone companion this morning (iTunes link), along with v2.1.
Delicious Library has a lot of neat features that I simply don’t use, but the best use I’ve found for it so far is cataloging your vinyl collection. Unfortunately you have to manually enter everything, as well as find the album art yourself… but it’s really handy to have your collection in a lusciously designed searchable beast in your pocket.
It’s $40, but the demo let’s you add 25 items so you can play. The iPhone app is free.
If you follow this blog you’ll know that the past year of my life has seen me running a veritable gauntlet of operating systems on my new-ish PC. I’ve run XP32, XP64, OS X, Vista32, Vista64, Server 2008×64, and now, finally, I am running the superb Windows 7 64-bit. Yes, superb, I didn’t expect it either. Although I did notice marked improvements in Vista/Server 2008 over XP, I always felt there was a compromise somewhere and it never felt quite as stable as I’d like. So it was with great anticipation last week that I followed my friend Dusty’s advice and installed the Windows 7 beta. It’s only been a week since the upgrade but I have really worked this thing hard and I am happy to report that it’s been the most stable and responsive OS experience I’ve had yet and outshines all of the examples mentioned above.
Although the beta program is “officially” closed, there’s no shortage of Windows 7 torrents to be had. Even Microsoft has tacitly endorsed the torrent acquisition method, honoring these versions with legitimate serials upon registration (although these serials are only valid until the final product is released). The install was a snap, it was very similar — but seemlingly even more streamlined — than with Vista and it’s right up there with the speed and ease of an OS X install routine. Once installed, it boots up very quickly and everything about the experience is very much “straight to the point”. Gone are the nags, pop-ups, and wizards (I hate wizards) of Vista/XP past, now virtually everything is disabled by default, letting the user choose what features they want. I usually spend the first hour of a new XP/Vista install going through and optimizing the settings, disabling services and generally clearing out the bloat and cutting the fat. With Windows 7 that process took literally 2 minutes, I only had to disable a few notifications and one of the more annoying features of the Aero theme (the slowly animated minimize/maximize of the windows).
Speaking of the Aero theme, Microsoft have “borrowed” liberally from the OS X “Aqua” interface on many fronts. From Windows 7’s new dock functionality to it’s feeble attempt at some sort of expose-esque functionality, they’re obviously taking cues from the success of their Mac brethren. While I think the new dock is very successful, I think the Windows expose falls flat. In fact the one big thing I still miss about OS X when working in Win7 is the show-all-windows / show-desktop hot corner functionality of the Mac; it’s just so damned useful. Unfortunately, the Windows 7 knock-off is not quite there.
Anyways, back to the install. I had all my fonts and the full CS4 suite loaded within 15 minutes and was tearing through 3GB PSB’s (Photoshop Large Document Format) shortly thereafter. In my experience Photoshop stability (and stability in general for that matter) is greatly improved in the new Windows. I also found noticeable (but not incredible) processing performance increases. Where I think Windows 7 really shines though is file handling and disk read/write functions. Saving and opening very large PSD’s has dramatically improved over Vista. Vista’s much maligned file handling was sluggish and inexplicably slow across the board. I’ve heard they had some sort of base-level DRM checking built into the core of the OS. That could be BS, but whatever it was it was a real problem and they’ve fixed it in Windows 7.
The icing on the cake came when I started working with Adobe Bridge CS4. In both XP and Vista I had horrible issues with Bridge, so bad that I had to quit using it. Every session would result in a crash, without fail, across the board. Every OS I have used until this point just didn’t play well with Bridge. But it seems to like Windows 7; I can churn out previews of PSB files in excess of 4GB in size with no problem. Thousands of NEF RAW files in one folder render to thumbs without a hitch now. Either of those would have choked Bridge half the time in the older OS’s on the same hardware. One glitch I’ve found is that the GPU acceleration in Photoshop is not working (see image below). It doesn’t recognize my video card as openGL capable even though I have the Win7 beta drivers installed, which was working fine under Vista. I suspect this is something that will be fixed sooner than later though through a driver update. Although now that the GPU acceleration is disabled and everything is running so smoothly, it makes me wonder if it was contributing to any instabilities I was experiencing under Vista. I guess that remains to be seen though.
A quick side note about the image below: Notice where it says “Available RAM: 7216”, that might be the number one reason I ditched the OS X install I had on this very same machine. PS is still 32-bit on OS X and therefore cannot utilize even half of that amount of RAM.
To be fair I haven’t put Win7 through it’s paces for audio yet, all of my testing has been with graphics apps only (Photoshop, Illustrator, Bridge, etc.) Next week I will be loading up Sonar and all the VST’s and giving that a spin. But Dusty, who uses Windows 7 solely for audio, has assured me that — with Ableton Live at least — it’s performing far better than Vista or XP on the very same machine. As a lifelong PC user (I do have a Macbook Pro, which I absolutely love for everything other than work) this is such a relief. Yes, Vista was a dog out of the gate, but anyone who has used it lately can’t help but recognize that Microsoft has gone a long was to fix the problems that plagued it and with Windows 7, I think they’ve finally gone the distance and realized the operating system that Vista was meant to be. I also think a lot of budget-minded creatives can now breathe a collective sigh of relief that the OS of choice for people who don’t have $4000 to spend on a computer is back.
A friend that I used to work at Adobe with sent me this Adobe UI Gripes site yesterday. I really can’t say why I find it so amusing but maybe it’s just nice to see someone going through the same frustration I feel sometimes with Adobe apps. I guess when you’ve essentially monopolized the creative software market like Adobe, you make a pretty easy target for stuff like this. Anyways, it’s a fun read and there are gems like this sprinkled around here and there. I’ve encountered a lot of these before and just asked why, but I’m not sure I ever got as worked up as this. Link
Realistically, I really only have a few problems with CS4. At the top of the list would be Bridge. Somewhere around CS3 Adobe decided to cripple Windows machines and remove the thumbnail icon viewing capability from the OS file explorer thereby forcing you to use Bridge (pretty clever). This wouldn’t be a big deal, I actually like Bridge a lot, only problem is it crashes nearly every time I use it for more than 10 minutes. There’s a fix for 32-bit windows installs but not for 64-bit so we’re left with the generic icon when trying to browse PSD’s in explorer. A couple others would be the permanent hand icon mode (you’ll know it if you’ve encountered it…thankfully there’s any easy fix: reset warning dialogs, but why?) and the delay in dragging content from one tabbed window in Photoshop to another tabbed document, you have to hold that thing up there for waaay too long. How about you, what Adobe bugs do you love to hate?
MyFonts released an iPhone version of their WhatTheFont identification tool last week. It has a very simple and easy to use interface. You basically just take a picture of a font, crop and upload it, and it will run the characters through a recognition database and give you possible identities for your mystery font. Works well so far (at least it was able to recognize Futura above), but it will be interesting to see how it does with some more challenging typefaces.
If you read anywhere as many blogs as me, you probably use an RSS reader. My absolute favorite is Google’s Reader; it’s web-based, lightweight, and has all the functionality I could ever need. The only problem is that, like all other Google products, it looks like a Google product. Enter “Helvetireader”, a minimal, Helvetica-themed interface for Google Reader. The theme works with most browsers, more info is here.
This is mostly an addendum to last week’s Vista 64 post. As Tide pointed out in the comments of that post, there is technically another flavor of Windows Vista called Windows Server 2008. As the name implies, it’s intended to run as a server OS, but underneath the hood it’s essentially Windows Vista minus all the bloat and the few minor annoyances. I guess Microsoft figured sysadmins and hosting providers wouldn’t be willing to deal with all the extra resource-hogging features that are tacked on to Vista by default, so they stripped it down to it’s core, added some cool features like a built in web server and virtualization (which are disabled by default), and branded it as Server 2008. This means no Security Center, no User Account Control (UAC), no Windows Update running automatically, and none of the other preloaded Vista features that prevent the OS from being a serious development machine. This is probably what lead many tech writers to refer to Server 2008 as “Vista done right”. With a very basic understanding of Windows services or a good ability to follow directions, you can convert this hot-rodded version of Vista into a fully functional graphics, video, or audio workstation. Most of the benchmarks I’ve seen show Server 2008 coming in around 10-15% faster across the board than Vista. All this was very intriguing to me as I usually spend a good hour or two after a Vista install just disabling services and features I don’t need in order to slim it down. The idea of a pre-slimmed vista was something I really had to try out.
I set out to get Server 2008 running on my main development tower around noon and in well under 2 hours I was up with CS4 and Sonar 8 installed. I am running the 64-bit variety of this OS just as I was in Vista so all of the 64-bit advantages remain (seeing more RAM, more efficient CPU usage, etc.). The install was just like Vista, very simple and rather quick. On first boot up, the OS comes so stripped down that audio isn’t even enabled by default, it’s literally bare bones. You can then go through and enable only the services you need, keeping the running processes to a minimum. And if you don’t have a good grasp of Services or registry editing, there’s even a tool to help you convert a fresh Server 2008 install into a workstation via a simple GUI here. It took about 1 minute (literally) to enable what I needed with the app. Installing drivers is a snap just like in Vista, if you’re running the 64-bit version of the OS you just have to make sure the manufacturer of your hardware offers a 64-bit driver for it. Now that 64-bit is becoming mainstream, there are very few devices out there that don’t have 64-bit support. If you want to keep your Vista or XP install intact, creating a dual-boot system is very easy using tools like EasyBCD.
Working on the machine has been very smooth and stable, I’ve put it through it’s paces in most of the major apps from CS4 as well as Cakewalk Sonar 8 with various VST plugins. The few minor issues I had with Vista are now gone (namely the sporadically slow file copy/move behavior caused by the DRM apparently present in Vista but thankfully missing from Server 2008) and I have yet to encounter any sort of crash or application failure. Photoshop CS4 64-bit runs incredibly well, I have seen a marked performance increase in all operations, it just seems more efficient and definitely more powerful. Disk read/write speeds seem to have increased as well, boosting swap disk performance for Photoshop. Overall it’s been a surprisingly pleasant experience. My only regret is that I didn’t try this earlier while languishing in XP for so long. Although I am assuming this OS, as with it’s counterpart Vista, only recently came of age with the release of Service Pack 1 (SP1) for both.
Overall, I highly recommend this OS as a svelte and stable alternative to the already solid Vista. It excels for multimedia tasks and for working professionals it’s trimmed down resource weight will maximize your system’s performance. If you’ve ever installed Windows before, you’ll have no problem getting Server 2008 up and running. If you’re a web developer this seems like a must have OS, it’s the perfect environment for testing server technologies like PHP with your Flash sites. The only caveat to all of this is the price: It’s a whopping $999 for a license. Fortunately, Microsoft offers a generous evaluation period.
So it’s late 2008 (what happened?) and I’ve now entered a new chapter in my never ending quest for the ideal OS for design and music. If you read this blog with any regularity, you’ll know that I’m a lifelong Windows user who recently got a Macbook pro, my first official Apple computer. I still use Windows to create music and design, but I have my Macbook for all the other stuff: blogging, surfing, listening to music, traveling, etc., etc. I would love to switch to Mac for music and graphics as well, but the program I use for recording music, Cakewalk Sonar, is Windows only. So unless I want to start from scratch and learn a new DAW software like Logic, I’m pretty much stuck with PC for better or for worse. That being the case, I was pretty excited when Windows Vista first came out, I had read a lot about the enhancements they had made to the OS and at that point, XP was really showing it’s age. But as we all know, when Vista finally did come out it was a bitter disappointment for many, myself included. I plunked down $350(!!) for Vista Business 64-bit edition right when it came out only to find that it was a complete mess. Bad driver compatibility, unstable operation, security holes: you name it, Vista had it. So I reluctantly went back to XP, thought I’d wait it out and let the hardware manufacturers catch up and write new, more stable drivers for Vista. But that didn’t work out so well either, after about 6 months of waiting I installed Vista again with similar results. Add one more, XP-wait-reinstall cycle and that was it for me, I finally put it to rest and retiring the install CD to the storage closet with all the old dusty manuals, floppy disks, and other computer ephemera that I can’t seem to part with.
Fast forward a year: SP1 for Vista is out, a lot of hardware makers have more mature drivers available (MOTU being the most important to me), and 64-bit Photoshop has become a reality thanks to CS4. One day I was talking with my friend Dusty Brown and the subject of Windows came up. Like me, he uses a Mac laptop and a PC desktop. One for daily tasks, one for recording music and graphics. He said he had been using Vista for a while and that it had been working out great for him. This got me thinking, was the time right to finally put that 8GB of ram in my desktop to use? The allure of 64-bit Photoshopping was just too much to resist. So I bit the bullet and installed Vista on my main desktop for the fourth time. It has now been about a month since I did and I can honestly say I am very, very impressed. Perhaps I am only relatively impressed given my past history, but this time around Vista has been super stable (albeit very subjective, I’ve counted 0 lock-ups or crashes in Vista compared with around 8 on my brand new Macbook Pro). Photoshop has been tearing through files, I’ve noted a marked improvement in file opening speed, screen redraws, and overall performance. And perhaps most importantly, when I open the preferences in Photoshop and go to “performance”, the RAM slider goes all the way up to 7224 MB (see image above). It’s ridiculous to think how long it took for that to become a reality, but here we are. Some might argue that I am merely experiencing the benefits of using a 64-bit OS and that Vista itself isn’t really central to my overall satisfaction. Perhaps, but I used Windows XP 64 for about 6 months earlier this year and it was a buggy mess, nothing even approaching the stability and performance I am seeing in Vista. A quick note on configuration: I disabled a lot of non-essential services (as I always do with Windows) and turned off all visual effects and security services. Point being that fresh out of the box, your mileage may vary with Vista, it takes some tweaking.
But as with everything, it’s not all roses. DRM, for one, is not doing Vista any favors. Apparently Microsoft, being the paragon of freedom and privacy that they are, decided to embed DRM (digital rights management) at the core of Vista, to the extent that it scans each and every bit moving through the system to check for copyright information. This can slow certain operations down and cripple others completely. Fortunately, it’s most obvious effects are limited to file copy/transfer and are somewhat sporadic, so they don’t really impinge on my day to day workflow. Let me qualify that information though by stating that it is merely internet rumor at this point (well documented rumor, but rumor nonetheless), to date, MS has made no official on whether or not they have integrated DRM into the OS.
So yes, I bought the hype and listened to all the Vista haters for a long time. And maybe they were right, but the key word here is “were”. It’s almost 2009 and I am here to say that Vista is all growed up. So yeah, there it is, take it or leave it. Anyone else using Vista 64 with CS4? What has your experience been?