August 17, 2007

Initial reviews of 4th-gen iMac

[a new iMac]And now I'm also the owner of a brand-spanking-new iMac of the new generation just announced and released last week. The monitor has a 24" diagonal, which is absolutely immense. The computer arrived yesterday, and I spent four hours moving stuff over from my desktop machine at work, so that when I first logged in it had successfully migrated all my old settings without a lot of tedious setup.

Actually, you know what? I'm not even sure how it did that. Because among the files that were transferred were a whole bunch of Fink-installed files, which are not in Mac's .app format and were compiled for the old system, which was a PowerPC G5. This one is a new Intel-based Mac. And yet, they work. Now, I know that Rosetta is supposed to let me run old PPC apps more or less seamlessly, but I didn't think that the OS support for legacy code ran quite so deep.

It looks pretty slick; Apple's aesthetic sense triumphs again. It's also noticeably faster at a lot of things. But I have mixed or negative feelings about most of the things that work differently:

  • The keyboard. Honestly, this change is sexier than the change on the main box; it is wafer-thin and somewhat lighter than the previous model, though not so light that it would lack heft. The keys have a rather different feel when it comes to touch-typing, but I'm already adapting to that. My complaint as regards the keyboard has to do with the function key row. Now, in Jobs's presentation he made a big deal about things like brightness controls and sound being right there in the function key row, as if this were a new thing. But I already had those—brightness on my laptop, and volume on both the laptop and the desktop model. But, and this is completely obnoxious, the volume controls are attached to different keys on all three. Apple needs to MAKE UP THEIR GOD DAMN MIND about where they're going to put these keys, and stop moving everything around. The keys for things like Dashboard and Exposé are also, I think, different from where they used to be by default. What makes this all doubly problematic is that afaict the "special functions" (brightness, dashboard, expose, rewind/pause/forward, and volume) are active on some sort of hardware level, with a "fn" key you can hold down to make the F-keys be simple F-keys again. Which, if true, would mean that I can't even rebind them to match what I'm used to. I'm also not sure the physical key caps can be removed and rearranged as they could on earlier models.
  • The monitor. It's very big. That's kind of cool, although I'm finding I need to sit a little further away from it not to be overwhelmed. The problem is, it's really bright. There's a brightness button, but it just spans the range from "painfully bright" to "blindingly bright"—"dim" is simply not an option. I haven't even used the computer that much yet and I'm getting eyestrain from it. This is, as you might imagine, a problem.
  • iPhoto. In the Jobs presentation, I think one of the more exciting things was all the really nice changes they made to iPhoto. The problem is, every time I try to load it up, it tells me I need to upgrade my library before I can use any of my existing photos, but then it utterly hangs less than a minute into this process (which claims it should take about fifteen). Lame.
  • Desktops. In particular, VirtualDesktop, a piece of software I've relied on for many years to manage limited screen real estate. Unfortunately, for some reason, it doesn't appear to work on the new machine. It loads, and its dialogs and preferences seem ok, but it doesn't actually do any of its desktopping. It's awful; even though my onscreen pixel count has gone way up, if I'm not able to keep at least a few virtual extra screens out there, I've lost real estate overall. Lame.

I have a support email out on the last problem and will be calling Apple tomorrow or Monday about the iPhoto thing. The others, though, seem a bit more intrinsic.

"Looking back at the early microcomputers is like looking at the fossils in ancient shale, before evolution took out three quarters of the species, some of them weirder than anything living today." --Graham Nelson

Posted by blahedo at 7:53pm on 17 Aug 2007
I have been using You Control: Desktops, available for $30 from, since getting my work MacBook Pro. I am delighted with it. It beats hell out of Virtual Desktop (and not just because it works properly). It is well worth the $30. Posted by Greg at 8:53pm on 20 Aug 2007
I've actually been using the recently discontinued "Virtue Desktops" to great success. The reason it's being discontinued is because Leopard is going to have this functionality natively... As for the keyboard -- I just picked one up today and LOVE IT. It's like silk (silky love, if you will) on your fingers. I'd also like to mention the recessed usb ports on the underside that make the mouse plug 'disappear' when looked upon from the top. Very nice. Posted by Adam at 3:29pm on 21 Aug 2007
I'm far from the first to complain about the brightness problem—apparently the 24" iMacs from the last series had the same issue. There is a freeware solution: Shades. I'll still complain about it when I get around to calling AppleCare about iPhoto. Posted by blahedo at 12:40am on 25 Aug 2007
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