iMacs, iTouch, eeePC and O!PLay

Its been one of those weeks ! First of all, a friend asked for some help with their brand new iMac and their iTouch.  I can hear the Macomaniacs starting to rant in the background that if you buy a Mac you don’t need any help as they are so easy to use, so superior to a PC, so clever etc., etc., etc.  – of course, as most sensible people would expect, this is rubbish. I think the best that can be said about Mac’s, other than that they are gorgeous to look at,  is that they are just ‘different’ and have their own quirks and foibles like any other compute box you buy.

My friend had an older model G5 based iMac and it had the common problem of a flaky motherboard and video, which if you are lucky, and if you bitch loudly enough, your local Apple store will repair at no charge. This in fact was done for another friend of mine after the warranty had expired, and it was one of those ‘under the table’ acknowledgements by Apple that there was an inherent design flaw or use of substandard parts in the product line – go here for a do-it-yourself procedure if you were stonewalled by your dealer, and want to try to effect your own repair.

At any rate, the idea was to move the older, flakey G5 downstairs, and install the new Intel based machine in the den after first moving over all the account information and data. Apple has a nice little application used for migrating account data from one machine to another which is supposed to work over either a network or a firewire cable – so I took along one of my firewire cables and figured this would be a quick and easy process. Not true – turns out the G5 has the Firewire 400 interface, and the newer Intel based iMac uses the Firewire 800 interface – why it is both types of connector are not provided on the new models to ensure some backwards compatibility is beyond me, but this is at least consistent with how Apple does things. The next hurdle then, was to try to buy a 400/800 cable or an adapter – the BestBuy outlet the machine had been bought from cheerfully informed us they didn’t carry them, and didn’t expect to have them for perhaps another three months ! After a bit of phoning around I found one at (where else) the MacWorld store and $20 later we had a very small piece of plastic which was the adaptor required to connect a firewire 400 cable to an 800 port.  Thankfully it worked, and after an hour or so the new machine was ready to go, although two small hiccups were noticed. For some reason, the personalised screen wallpaper had not been installed. This took me just a minute or two to fix. And the other was that as we had powered up the new machine and answered a few questions before transferring over the account information, we had to change the name of the main account to keep the transfer software happy. The iTouch connection initially was a bit confusing as we didn’t want to have to re-buy the applications already on the device and it was not immediately obvious how to synchronise with iTunes without erasing and starting over. After a bit of searching this was sorted out and everything seemed happy. The only thing I’m still not 100% sure of is the networking on the new machine – it seems to drop the connection occasionally to the D-Link router. It’s on a wired connection, and the G5 box, the iTouch, as well as other devices are rock solid on the same router,  so at the moment it seems to be just an issue with the new Intel based iMac. For the moment, I’ve decided to leave it be till we see if it really is a problem or possibly fixes itself as a result of an eventual software update.

I previously wrote about my eeePC here, and we still use it whenever we travel – as an early example of the form factor that came to be known as a ‘netbook’ it’s still great ! Unfortunately, Asustek isn’t adequately supporting the non-Windows versions running the the modified Xandros Linux OS, and frankly the stock implementation out of the box, while OK to use, and does what it needs to do, I find is just a bit too crippled in its functionality. Of course, when the eeePC was first released it was immediately hacked, and there are many sites offering ‘how-to’ information – my preferred one is located here. If you do a quick Google search, you can find many alternate versions of operating system tailored for the eeePC hardware. It has proven to be a very versatile platform for people to play with so, I thought I’d try out another OS’ just for a change – after looking at both Easy Peasy and eeebuntu, both of which appear to be excellent, I’ve decided to try out eeebuntu 3.0 Standard first and live with it for a few months, and then perhaps upgrade to their new EB4.0 release.

Version 3.0 of eeebuntu is a very complete, well packaged OS – all the things you normally use in the desktop/laptop Ubuntu environment are here, but it is optimised for the eeePC. I ran a live CD version for a few days just to play with it, and other than not liking the Banshee music player bundled with the applications software, it is pretty slick. Of course the first thing I did was a disc image backup of the Xandros OS already installed on my eeePC – the instructions on an easy way to do this are located here, and I used an 8 GB USB drive as the backup media. Once I had decided to take the plunge, eeebuntu 3.0 installed from the live CD with no drama’s at all, and it works like a charm. So far so good – I’ll let you know what I think after I’ve tried it for a couple of months.

The other thing I’ve been playing with this week is a new media player that connects into your home network, and allows you to easily and painlessly display your photos and saved TV shows on your TV, as well as play your centrally saved music files. There are several of these on the market, but the one I ended up buying is the Asus O!Play Air, which has wireless support built-in. This thing is a little sweetheart, about the size of a cigar box (if anyone can remember what those looked like !!) and has connections for composite video, audio, digital audio, HDMI, ethernet (wired and wireless), USB, eSATA, and multiple storage card formats (SD/MMC, CF and MS). It’s great ! I had no trouble at all getting it up and running, connected to my home server and displaying photos of our darling children on the TV, as a means to justify to SWMBO’d that this was a useful purchase ! It has built-in support for a wide range of video formats (MPEG1/2/4, H.264, VC-1, and RM/RMVB and lots of packages including .mp4, .mov, .avi, .divx, and .mkv etc.) – so far I haven’t found anything it won’t play but no doubt there are at least a couple. As the device is upgradable, I’d like to think that as new file formats appear, Asustek will provide updates to the O!Play, although at the price point this represents and given there is no internal data storage (and so no real data investment), it is almost disposable. The interface is a bit clunky – but I’m OK with clunky that works, so this one gets a thumbs up !

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