Lost post: Apple “community”

This is a ‘lost post’ that I found unpublished when fixing up my WordPress install. I wrote it about six years ago, and I’m not sure that much has changed, except that I don’t find myself needing help with the basics so often…

I can’t decide whether the bits of “Apple community” I keep encountering reinforce the idea that Apple is as much cult as company, or whether its just confirmation bias, but it’s getting on my nerves.

I’ve become increasingly enmeshed in the Apple universe, particularly in the past year. I’ve had a few iPods over the years, so my legacy music collection lives in iTunes. I bought an iPad a little over a year ago, and found that a thin, light, always-connected internet device was something I could really use. I’ve collected a selection of smartphones for work and am using an iPhone now as my primary.

I’ve always been PC-based at work, but even that’s about to change. Thanks to a 32bit-only Windows install image and both the gradual migration of my tools to 64bit only and the need for more memory, I’m switching the Mac. Ironically, I’m switching to Mac just as “serious” video people seem to be switching back the other way — Final Cut Pro X doesn’t seem to be working for production houses who were using Studio/Server, and Apple have been neglecting/killing off their pro hardware for a while now — but for my uses, that’s not such a big deal and I may continue to use Premiere on Mac anyway. I’m also picking up a personal Mac while I’m on.

Now in “professional” discussion spaces, the conversation does tend to be more rational but whenever I search for a “how-to” for any of my consumer devices, I invariably see a conversation which looks a bit like this:

OP: “Hi Guys, I want to <do a thing> but not by <a method the OP can’t to use>. Any ideas how?

1P: “That’s easy, you just <method the OP doesn’t want to use>

OP: “No, I want to do it without using <method>

2P: “The best way is to <differently worded explanation of the OP’s do-not-use method>

1p: “Why wouldn’t you want to use <unwanted method>? Why make things difficult?”

OP:<reasonable explanation of why they can’t use the suggested method>

2p: “That’s stupid, just <unwanted method>. If you want to do it stupidly, use WinBlows”

3p:<Alternative method which ignores the problem with the first method and therefore doesn’t help>

4p: You can’t do it, because Mac users are sheep/Use Linux/trolling

Everyone: *bun fight*

Additionally, if the thread lasts for more than a single page, then at some point there’ll be an argument over iOS sales vs Android sales, market cap, lawsuits, icon design, profitability and favourite colour. If it gets to a third page there’ll be additional arguments about the Metro UI, Mountain Lion and the tabletisation of everything. And skeuomorphism.

Jokes aside, my anecdotal observations suggest that not only is there not much help around if you deviate from the standard method, but that a non-trivial elements of the community sees it as a bad thing to even try. I’m not so worried about finding workarounds in things like Final Cut, Motion or Keynote — there are plenty of “professional” forums covering that sort of thing where people are pragmatic about getting work done. My main concern is that, as I’m acclimating to OS X, I’m going to want to rapidly dial-up my knowledge of how the OS works, its tricks and secrets etc. And it seems that at a general level, that might be harder.


Outlook 2011 fix autodiscover

…or rather disable autodiscover.

At my place of work, we have various options for remote access. If you have a corporate laptop, you can connect via VPN and have full access to all internal systems. Or, if you just need to check mail, you can fire up Outlook and it will connect with or without the VPN (I think this is using Exchange Web Services, but don’t hold me to that). Finally, if you don’t have a corporate laptop, you can connect to Outlook Web Access and do your emailing and IMing that way. All fairly normal.

Except… while my laptop is supplied by my employer, it’s a Mac (for various complicated reasons). Our environment is Microsoft-based and isn’t really set up or tested to be Mac-friendly — which is fair enough. Plus Microsoft quite obviously doesn’t put as much effort into the Mac version of Office as they do into the Windows version.

So: I can enter the appropriate details into the server configuration preferences for Outlook and everything will work remotely, without needing a VPN connection — helpful when working on things which require me to be disconnected from the office network. But as soon as open Outlook “inside” the corporate network (whether physically in the office, or on VPN) the mailserver details I entered are replaced with the fully-qualified name. Which doesn’t work outside the office.

This was irritating but something I could cope with until last week, when problems with the endpoints meant my VPN connections were very unstable. Not knowing that this problem was related to autodiscover, it took me a little while to figure out the right search to lead me to this helpful comment on officeformachelp.com (which simplifies the advice in the article). So, to disable autodiscover (and this annoying behaviour), I created and ran this applescript:

tell application “Microsoft Outlook”
set background autodiscover of every Exchange account to false
end tell

Which worked a treat. Just in case, I also created the following applescript:

tell application “Microsoft Outlook”
set background autodiscover of every Exchange account to true
end tell

to re-enable autodiscover. And now I’m happy 🙂

Why does everyone hate Flash?

I was killing some time and a random selection of links took me via the Doghouse Diaries to this post on Not Even Philosophy about various things Apple have done, including the changes to the iPhone developer agreement, and it got me thinking about Adobe Flash. In particular, this section:

Not only is it Apple’s right to not include Flash on Safari, it’s actually to the benefit of Mac/PC/iPhone/Android users in the mid- to long- term. I almost feel like this section needs little to no explanation if you’ve been keeping up with the HTML 5 / Flash debate. If Apple had continued to support Flash, a viable alternative would certainly not emerge for years to come, not to mention the quality of their products would have suffered in the meantime. Conversely, and for the sake of argument, this could also make Adobe revisit Flash and make it a much better product.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many criticisms that can be levelled at Flash, and at Adobe. Its security history is spotty at best, and recent flaws have been rather unpleasant and hard to work around short of disabling flash entirely. At various times, it’s been a horrible CPU hog, and even now it’s easy enough to create a page which bogs down the mightiest of PCs unless the host browser has some form of plugin throttle or has successfully moved plugins to separate/multiple processes. Of course, it’s closed-source commercial software, so if you’ve a bee in your bonnet for the GPL then it was never going to be your favourite. And y’know, I’ve ranted at length in the past about Adobe’s corporate policies — their “ha ha, because we can!” pricing policy (particularly for non-Americans) and their “how long was the illustrator graph tool broken for?” patching timescales. They aren’t perfect by a long chalk.

But, based on nothing more than gut feeling, I’d suggest that what the greatest number of people hate about Flash are the annoying ads it’s allowed into being. The “punch the monkey and win a prize” ads, the stupid autostarting video clips which blare out loud audio at the worst possible times. All the websites with 3 minute unskippable intro animations and menu systems that take 5 seconds after every button push before starting to load the new content. And guess what: none of that will go away.

HTML5 and its associated tech is looking to replace the underpinnings, not the mechanism itself. There’ll be HTML5 smack-the-spider ads, there’ll be opening sequences and too-clever-to-be-navigable interfaces. There’ll be video blaring out EVERYWHERE.

So by all means call the for destruction of Flash if you like, praise Apple for excluding Flash and others for stepping up, but just keep in mind that the new reality, when it arrives, might look a little familiar.