Mac: Time for a spare battery

Though I live on the East coast and my parents live in Southern California we are very close and speak at least once a week. When my Mom was hospitalized over Easter weekend I figured now was a good time to cash in some frequent flyer miles and spend some time with my parents and brother.

There are some serious advantages to being self employed and picking up the tent at a moment's notice and moving to a new campsite is one of them.

The flight to California is a little over 5 hours from my local airport and while I have had excellent battery life from my MacBook so far, I decided at the last minute to run over to the Apple store and grab a spare. It took a few hours to charge but it was ready prior to leaving at oh-dark-thirty on Saturday morning.

Since I left so early I actually snoozed for the first 2 hours of the flight. I then decided that I really needed to get some of my work done and fired up the MacBook, jumping between a couple of different tasks. I had read that someone got significantly better battery life by turning the brightness of the screen down as low as they could, so I tried that.

Turns out I probably didn't need the spare battery because by the time I was told to put the MacBook away for landing I still had 48% left on my battery. Most of my work had been in text editors and iStat Menus always showed very low CPU utilization and disk activity so that contributed greatly. Adding to that the fact that I had the AirPort service turned off the MacBook just didn't burn up that much energy.

If you have a MacBook you may have noticed that there is a little button on the bottom of the battery that, when pressed, lights up to indicate the charge left in the battery. What I learned was that this also works when the battery is out of the machine. Nice feature.

I have read many stories about the poor quality of the batteries for the MacBook, quite a few directly from the feedback listed in the Apple Store. Most of them appear to be for the last generation of the MacBook so I hope I'm not just lucky with my MacBook's battery life and that perhaps Apple has resolved what appeared to be a serious problem. So far I have had excellent performance from mine.

For the last 3 days I have been running almost exclusively off battery power and the amount of time I get from the battery has been outstanding. Much better than what I have gotten on the Dells or HPs that I have owned.

Mac: Canon 1100IS, iMovie and YouTube

I am out in Southern California visiting my parents and brother. Before I left I debated on packing up my camera, a Canon 30D and the usual kit I travel with when I know I'm going to be taking some photos. At the last minute I went on a "travel austerity" program and shed myself of my camera kit - so I arrived in California camera-less.

While it was great to not have to lug the rather large bag around through the airport, shortly after arriving I regretted not having the ability to take pictures. I had been thinking of getting a nice little point and shoot to compliment my DSLR - something I could just put in my pocket at a moment's notice and use on demand. I also liked the idea of being able to shoot light weight video easily.

My brother, always an enabler when it comes to spending money, took me over to Samy's - a camera store in Santa Ana, CA. Since I'm a hardcore Canon fan I immediately went to the Canon 1100IS, a nice little 8MP point and shoot.

The big selling points for me was an actual viewfinder, extremely quick recycle times between pictures and a user interface I was already pretty familiar with. I've been shooting with DSLR's for so long I forgot how handy these little cameras can be.

Of course, you can't leave a camera store with just a camera, otherwise the salespeople get taken around back and are beaten for not selling extras I guess. The sales guy asked if I needed an SD card. No, I've got a 2GB card already.

Then he turned on the sales charm and said "Have you seen this? It's an SD card that folds in half and can be inserted directly into a USB port - no external drive needed". Wow, that looked pretty cool.

And then he gave me the kicker: "We bought 2,500 of these things so we're selling them for $15".


Now equipped with both a new camera and the memory to store our, uh, memories my brother and I hunted around for something to shoot. Since he's a car nut and recently imported a Nissan Silvia from Japan, my brother had the bright idea that we could use the video capabilities for a quick action shot of his car.

I figured it would be a good quick test of the camera and I could also play with iMovie a little bit. What I was surprised by was how quickly I was able to get the footage into iMovie, trim it, add a sound track and subtitle, then upload it on YouTube directly from within iMovie.

Here are the results:

Sure, it's not much but it took all of about 20 minutes to put together and upload. And it is a pretty cool car!

Startup 101: Do you have what it takes to fire your boss?

I've been asked what it's like being your own boss before and have developed a standard response: 

It has its ups and downs. On the downside my boss is an obnoxious jerk that pushes me relentlessly.

On the upside I'm sleeping with his wife.

Have you given any thought to leaving the "security" of a regular paycheck and going out on your own? If so, this entry is for you. It is my not so humble opinion that working for yourself - owning your own business - is one of the greatest experiences a person can have. I equate it to the difference between living in your parents home and going out on your own and getting a place to live as a young adult. It is initially pretty frightening but the feeling of independence and growth is incredible and once you’ve done it successfully you cannot imagine going back to live with Mom and Dad.

I recognize that not everyone is cut out to start his or her own business - or even work outside the structure of a corporate environment. The skills required to start and then successfully run a business are not always the same and require that you switch gears quite a bit.

I’ve collected a list of attributes that can help you determine if you are the kind of person that can start your own business. I’ve been networking with the owners of businesses of all shapes and sizes for many years and found quite a few common themes that I hope you will find valuable.

You are a good candidate to start a business because…

You are willing to take risks
This is the most obvious one – so obvious I hesitated including it on the list. Starting a business is a risky proposition. You need to be sure that you have set yourself up as much as possible to absorb the risk associated with starting a business, especially the financial issues. Only you can determine what level of risk is acceptable but a good rule of thumb is to have enough money or financial security squirreled away to last you through the time it would take to land a regular job. I’ve known people that didn’t feel comfortable until they had a year of living expenses and others that had virtually no savings, just a surplus of confidence. 

It may be possible for you to start your business while you are still employed by someone else – if so, that’s outstanding. Just make sure you are not going to violate any employment agreement you may have with your company and, if it’s at all possible without jeopardizing your job, let your boss know what you are doing. It is much easier to operate in the clear light of day.

You are an optimist (but a pragmatic one)
If you are going into business by yourself it is critical that you are an optimist. Not someone that lives in a state of denial the entire time mind you – you have to be realistic – but someone that sees positive potential in most things. If you are constantly looking at why something will fail you are going to go out of business pretty quickly. It is the job of others to tell you why something can't be done.

This is not to say that you cannot have pessimist as a partner. Very often having someone that balances out an optimist and throws a dose of reality on the situation creates a good balance.

You have a vision for your business and can share it with others
Having a good idea is one thing, being able to articulate it well and get others excited about it is another. If you are going to be the one that starts the business you have to be able to get others excited about it. Keep in mind that friends and family will usually love anything that you present to them. Get outside of your circle and comfort zone by asking people that would be potential customers or clients.

The list of people that you need to convince that you have a great business concept is quite long: potential employees, bankers, venture capitalists, partners, distributors, landlords, etc. All of these folks will want to hear from you why they should take a risk on your business.

You can modify your lifestyle
When you are first starting out it is critical that you can adopt a frugal life style. While you were gainfully employed you may have eaten out often, taken nice vacations or bought a new car every couple of years. You need to be able to adjust that quickly to take up the slack and minimize your financial risk. That frugality will help you with the business as well – it’s all a mindset kind of deal.

A frugal life style will lead to a closely monitored business.

You have a great relationship with your life partner
If you are living with someone or are married, it needs to be a strong relationship. Some people have successfully started and built up businesses while they were in a lousy relationship – the business became a sanctuary, something that kept them away from the person they didn’t really want to deal with anyway. Others have had a relatively fragile relationship fail when faced with the time commitment, stress and financial burden associated with a new business.

This one is very personal for me. I was blessed with a fantastic wife that supported me every step of the way. On the days I just felt like I couldn’t deal with it I had her to turn to. When I questioned why I was going through the painful process of starting my business I would look at the photos on my desk of my wife and three children. It was all the inspiration I needed to make it work.

If you are in a relationship you need to know if your partner is going to support you. It will not be all happiness and light mind you – my wife and I got into many heated debates on issues that were complicated by the stress of running the business. If however we had a defective relationship it likely would have failed.

You are a jack-of-all-trades
Have you ever been described or described yourself to others as a jack-of-all-trades? If so, that’s a good thing when starting a business. If you are starting the business by yourself then you are obviously the CEO, but until you get employees you will also have a couple more key titles:

  • VP of Marketing: You need to develop and execute a plan to promote your product or service.
  • VP of Sales: You have to develop a sales process and make it happen
  • VP of Development / Production: Someone has to build your product or provide that service. That someone is you. Outsourcing it? You still have to manage it.
  • VP of Support / Customer Service: You will need to deal with customer issues and resolve problems people have.
  • VP of Finance / HR: Run your accounting software (Quickbooks is a popular choice), pay the bills and manage any employees you may have.

Depending on the type of business you want, one person can pull off all of these roles and still lead a semi-normal life, though like anything else you need to be pretty good at them if you want it to be successful.

You get easily frustrated with bureaucracy
As companies grow larger they develop processes and systems to help them run more efficiently. Over time those processes evolve and change and can become less efficient. If you are working in a company and see all the places where processes can be improved or eliminated, you have a trait that is valuable in starting your own company.

If you work for a company that is unwilling or unable to change an inefficient bureaucracy and it drives you nuts, you have some of the fuel required to power your business.

You want financial independence
One day you look at your finances and realize that while you thought you were running hard in a race you are actually running on a treadmill. Between car payments, a mortgage, living expenses, etc. you make a decent living but you are not advancing your lifestyle to your satisfaction. If you have children then it’s even more pronounced because you have their living expenses and education to worry about as well.

In my experience the best way to provide yourself with the opportunity for financial independence is to control your own destiny, and that means starting your own business. Not every business is destined to create great wealth for the person that starts it. Many people create life-style businesses that generate just enough revenue to pay the owners a good wage.

Whether you are creating a business with the intention of selling it to obtain wealth or you are creating a long term life-style business, either can provide you with financial independence.

You don’t give up easily
A critical characteristic for a person starting a business is persistence. You need to be able to face rejection and failure not as a personal thing but as a challenge to improve. A new business faces many obstacles that will tear you down and make you want to run screaming for the perceived safety of regular employment if you let them get to you.

You must have a “Yeah, we can take that hill” mentality and like a good challenge.

You like to work really hard
The final attribute I’ll talk about is your work ethic. If you want to build a successful business you have to have the capacity to work very, very hard. You will often hear people say that it’s not about working harder; it’s about working smarter. That mindset is great for employees that have well defined jobs but fails when it comes to a person starting a business. You have to work smarter AND harder because there is so much to do.

If you are a clock-punching kind of person then clearly you should not be starting a business.

Do you have it in you?
I tried to keep my perspective and advice as general as I could so if you were thinking of starting virtually any kind of business this would apply. In future articles I will get a little more specific to Internet and software based businesses.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Copyright © 2008, David Alison. All rights reserved.

Playing Media Rant - when will this get better?

So here's the deal. A buddy (Jeff) sends out some MPG files of a recent trip to friends. One of the friends responds that she cannot view the files on her Mac. Jeff sends a note to me on AIM:

Jeff: yo macboy
what app do you use to view MPG files

Nice to know that I am now "macboy". I feel like the Jive Lady in the movie Airplane... "Oh stewardess! I speak Mac".  I look at the MPG files that Jeff sends me and sure enough I can't view them. QuickTime Pro, which I recently upgraded to, gives me this:

I had already installed Flip4Mac into QuickTime but that didn't help me. A quick search turned up VLC, which I posted about earlier today. Finally, I could see the videos.

As a techie I am accepting of the challenges of technology. I understand why it all exists - that each vendor has their own way of recording the video that may take advantage of their hardware and hundreds of other issues. But when I put on my consumer hat I get more than a little pissed off that I have to go through so much crap just to watch a video that someone created.

If someone sends me an image file chances are I will be able to view it. It's going to be in JPG, GIF or PNG in all likelihood. My Mac, Windows and Linux machines will be able to view them easily right out of the box. Sure there are tons of file formats out there, but people have figured out that if you want the largest possible audience to view your files you need to put it in one of those formats.

When it comes to videos the options are staggering. At what point will we need to stop guessing which format will work best and have a standard, common format that everyone will be able to play reliably? Will this ever happen? Did I miss some piece of technology on the video side that makes this a non-issue?

YouTube got pretty damn close with their service, though I did have to install a Flash reader on each machine in order to view videos there.

Video recording technology is as pervasive as digital photography now. You can't buy a modern phone without getting a little video recorder built in and virtually every non-DSLR camera that comes out today has video capabilities. The need is clearly there to make it so that non-technical people can grab a file from any device and simply play it without having to download a bunch of stuff to make it work.

Somehow I don't think this is going to get better any time soon.

Mac: Playing media is easier with VLC

I am by no means a video guy. I've got friends that understand all the variations in compression technology and formats, the best codecs to use and everything else. When they go into "video speak" my eyes glaze over and I imagine myself on a beach somewhere nice and warm until their mouths stop moving and I can change the subject.

When it comes to video, especially when I'm just viewing it on my computer, I just want the stuff to play. It happened to me on Windows and it's now happened to me on my Mac - someone sends me a media format and QuickTime can't play it. I don't know why, nor do I really care all that much. Sure, I'll change my tune at some point when I start getting into video editing on my Mac but that's tomorrow's challenge. Right now what I need is something that let's me play any of the files that people throw at me. Period.

With that simple requirement on my mind and a MOV file that I couldn't watch I looked around for a cheap (free) way to view different video formats on my machine. I found VLC pretty quickly.

Suffice it to say, VLC worked great for me. I threw a couple of different files at it and it played them great. The list of file formats that VLC supports is quite long and hit all of the types I had been struggling with.

There are also versions for Windows, lots of different Linux variations and even BeOS. It's released under the GNU license and according to the web site has been downloaded over 70M times.

Mac: Safari Snapback

Ever wondered what that little orange arrow to the right of the Search Box or Address Box does in Safari? It's the Snapback button. If you perform a search using the search box and then start to navigate through URLs on the page, clicking on Snapback will take you back to the first page that you started navigating away from.

It's actually pretty smart when it comes to Google searches too. Rather than returning you to the first page of your results, it will return you to the point you left the search page through a link. If you go to the second page of search results, then pop into a link, Snapback will take you back to page two of your search.

It also works with bookmarks and addresses in the main address bar.

Having used tabbed browsers for many years the way I normally do a search is by clicking Mouse Button 3 (my scroll wheel button - but Command-Click can work too) on a result link and having that load in a new tab. I'll quickly scan through the links in a search result, sending the interesting looking sites off to a new tab, then flipping between the tabs when I've exhausted my search.

Because of this I don't use Snapback too much, but it has come in handy on occasion.

Mac: Where did my Backspace key go?

My Mac keyboard has taken a bit of adjusting for me, especially coming from Windows. It's not that it's difficult, just that I still spend a lot of time on my Windows machine and moving between the two keyboards can be a bit frustrating at times.

The MacBook adds to that challenge because it doesn't have some of the keys that I've become used to having on a full size keyboard. Where the Backspace key is on my Windows machine is a key labeled Delete. It performs the same function as a Backspace key on Windows though - so far so good.

The Delete key on my Windows machines (usually Del since it's a small key) doesn't exist on my MacBook. For the first month or so I accepted that I had to move past a letter and back over it with Delete in order to remove it. I like the fact that my keyboard has keys that have a little space between them - cutting down the key count by not including Del, Page up, Page Down, etc. means that I don't have a cramped keyboard like I do on my other HP laptop. It was a reasonable compromise from my standpoint.

What I just found out though was that I can Delete forward on a MacBook keyboard by holding down the "fn" (Function) key and hitting Delete. 

So where are the other missing keys?

Full Keyboard        MacBook Keyboard        
Delete (Forward)fn-Delete
Homefn-Left Arrow
Endfn-Right Arrow
Page Upfn-Up Arrow
Page Downfn-Down Arrow

Happy typing!

Mac: Had your Mac a while? Check this out...

Okay, you may know I'm a noob when it comes to Mac - I haven't even hit the two month mark yet. One of the things that happens when you get a new device like Mac is that you spend a lot of time checking out all the cool features because everything is so new. But what about people that have had their Mac for a while? How do you learn about features that have been added to OS X over the years that slipped by you?

Take a couple of minutes now and read this page:

I've noticed over the last month or so that people often put in comments like "I've been using my Mac for years and didn't know that!" even when I write about some pretty simple stuff. The beauty of the OS X UI is that it does a great job of masking complexity. The reason I love OS X is that if I dig just a little I find all kinds of cool things that are not readily apparent on first glance.

When I go through that list, which I've scanned through many times, I always seem to find something cool. 

Chances are you will too.

Mac: Making Safari open links in a tab

I've mentioned before that I really like Safari as my default browser, mainly because it's lightning fast, even more so with version 3.1. One of my pet peeves with it is the way it handles opening links that are targeted for a new window.

Links on a web page either go within the current browser window (or tab) or can be targeted to a window - the author of the page determines the target. Web sites will often target a new window because they don't want the user to leave their site. While this is all fine, I personally can't stand having a ton of browser windows open. The tabbed interface model for browsers is perfect for me - I like to open new browser windows as tabs and then be able to quickly switch between them.

There's a setting in Safari that allows you to open any link on a page in a new tab instead of a new browser window. Under Safari / Preferences / Tabs you can select the option that Command-Click opens any link in a new tab. I can also use my Logitech's scroll wheel button (Mouse Button 3) to perform that action.

The problem in Safari is that if the target for a link is a new window, Safari opened it in a new browser window. Man this drove me nuts until tonight.

Jon Sabino dropped in a comment on my last post mentioning an article on The Unofficial Apple Weblog about how to fix this problem. It's as simple as opening a terminal window and pasting in the following line:

defaults write TargetedClicksCreateTabs -bool true

Shut down Safari and restart it and off you go! From now on clicks that would normally open a whole new browser window will instead be targeted in a new tab in your current Safari window. 

Thanks for the great tip Jon!

Mac: How quickly does VMware Fusion run my development environment? Very.

Now that I'm back in my home office I figured I'd get Visual Studio 2005 Professional - my primary development environment - properly set up.  This proved a little more time consuming than I thought it would.

Installing and initially configuring Windows XP in a VMware Fusion Virtual Machine (VM) takes a little while. I decided that rather than play around with my existing VM I would build a new one that I could snapshot at key points. Fusion allows you to create a snapshot of your VM at any point in time that you can revert back to if something becomes hosed up - a distinct possibility when installing and configuring a development environment with after-market controls.

I forgot how long it takes to install Windows fresh, even with Fusion giving you a jump start. Not only do you have the 30 or so minutes to do the initial installation, you have to run Windows Update multiple times to get each layer of security patch in place. In my case that was over 100 patches and three full restarts.

Once I had Windows XP up and running I took a snapshot and then installed Visual Studio 2005 Professional. That took another 20 minutes or so for the initial install, then another 30 minutes for several layers of security patches on it. It took a while to get through all of this.

Finally, I went about installing my controls. I use Telerik right now, an outstanding set of controls that make for some really nice looking web applications.

From start to finish it took me over 2 1/2 hours to get everything set up properly. Once it was all up and running clean I took another snapshot in case I needed to roll it all back.

I was able to load my current project up, which included a local SQL Express database and tens of thousands of lines of code. It loaded fine the first time in, compiled clean and allowed me to see my application in IE (all within my VM). I could trace through code in the debugger, set breakpoints, modify data in the tables dynamically, etc.

From a performance standpoint everything ran very smoothly - I didn't see any big gaps in performance, even though this is a little MacBook. Comparing it side by side to my dedicated Windows machine yielded some interesting results:

Load Visual Studio 20053s3s
Load web project into VS 20058s4s
Rebuild entire project8s9s
Click run, load IE, app running3s3s
View Class Diagram6s9s
Save Class Diagram18s25s

My Windows machine has the following specs:

EVGA 680i Motherboard, Intel Extreme QX6700 2.66GHz processor (quad core), dual WD 150GB 10K RPM Sata drives, 2GB Corsair Dominator matched memory, EVGA 8800GTX video card. Running Windows XP SP2, fully patched.

My MacBook is a 2.2GHz machine with 4GB of RAM and a WD 320 HD. I am running VMware Fusion 1.1.1 and the same version of Windows XP in a VM.

I think the places where the MacBook finished up a little faster is where I have a number of external drives mapped to my Windows machine that in some cases it would run out and look through during some activities.

These numbers are me timing them with my digital watch. They could be off by as much as a second and since the machines are dramatically different this is not a head to head comparison in any way.

What it really represents though is that running VMware Fusion and Windows on a Mac can get very comparable performance to a PC running Windows exclusively. I really like the fact that right now I have an 18GB file that represents my entire Windows XP development setup.

If for example I want to set up a new Mac Pro as my development platform all I have to do is install VMware Fusion, copy the 18GB file over and I'm in business. No going through nearly 3 hours of installation and hassle.

Right now that sounds really, really appealing.

Mac: Going without power

My daughter is home from college for the weekend to celebrate Easter. I always love when she comes home - she really is a fantastic kid. She arrived a little early yesterday and filled me in on what was happening at school. Then she said:


When my daughter addresses me as Daddy that means there's a problem. Usually I'm Dad, Dude or "Yo!".  Daddy = not good.

"Daddy, the check engine light on the car came on right before I left campus. My cell phone died and I need to get it fixed. Oh, and I forgot to bring the power supply for my MacBook so I'll need to borrow yours."

I absorbed and slowly processed each of these statements, giving her a vacant look while my brain worked overtime. A check engine light is not good but the car is still under warranty so I'll figure that one out. That damn cell phone is not quite a year old and we had to sign a two year contract when we got the thing since she had to have the built in MP3 player on it. "It's so cool Daddy, please?". Now I have to yell at some poor Sprint store clerk in order to get this stupid issue resolved. This is not going to help me get an iPhone.

A little red light went off in my head. Power Supply? Did she say she needed my MacBook power supply? What the deuce??

How the hell am I going to use my MacBook for more than a couple of hours without a power supply? Sure, it's got great battery life and all but it ain't gonna last an entire weekend. I like to leave my machine on at all times - on the rare occasion I'm not actively using it I like to know it's there when I need to, say, write a quick blog post. Like this one.

So now we have to share a single power supply, like a couple of scuba divers sharing a bloody air tank when one of them fails. Shortly I'll have to enter her room and find the power supply in the debris field that happens when she returns home. How a little weekend travel bag like hers can disgorge enough crap to fill a room is beyond me, yet somehow a power supply couldn't find it's way in there.

When did I turn into a grouchy old man? Oh yeah, three teenage kids. Nevermind.

Well, we have to go out and run a lot of errands today so my Mac won't be used a lot. And I was looking for an excuse to visit the Apple store while we are out; maybe I'll pick up a spare power supply.

I'm pretty confident this is going to happen again.

Startup 101: Getting through the tough times

"What comes first - Success or Confidence?"

--Marty Schottenheimer

Marty Schottenheimer, the coach of the Washington Redskins back in 2001, started the season 0-5. When trying to explain what was happening with the team, he asked the rhetorical question above to reporters grilling him.

Back in June of 2000 my partners and I had finally pulled it off: we got an initial round of angel funding that would allow us to make WebSurveyor a real business.  Now we could start to hire employees, get some office space and start paying ourselves! It was a heady time - we were running at full speed, buying used furniture, setting up a spacious 1,000 sf office space that would ultimately house 14 people (yeah, it was really tight in there), buying a cheapo phone system, etc. By the end of August we were in our new customized office space, had a handful of employees and were watching our sales take off!

Reality started to hit us two months later. Sure, our sales were growing at a decent pace, just not nearly as quickly as we needed to so that we could at least break even. The market had just tanked, the Dot Bomb explosion was going off everywhere and we needed to make payroll. I'll never forget that night in late October of 2000. My partners Tom Lueker and Bruce Mancinelli were at the office with me at about 10pm on a Tuesday night, trying to figure out how we could possibly make payroll the following week. Up to that point in time we were so consumed with getting our facilities up and running and our new people on board I hadn't even thought about how tight we were running our ship. That night the reality of our situation hit me like a ton of bricks. It's now over 7 years later and I can still remember that feeling, like a heavy weight crushing down on me.

Before we took on the funding I had been doing contract development work. Well, all of the contracts had dried up just as I put myself on the payroll of WebSurveyor so for me there was no turning back. We simply had to figure out a way to make this work.

Somehow we managed to get just enough sales in the door and we were able to make payroll that month. We pushed off bills until the last possible moment and, when it seemed that it was the darkest time for our little company Bruce managed to get us a bridge loan from Beacon Ventures. It literally came at the last possible hour.

There would be other challenging times ahead for about a year after that. We rode a constant roller coaster that would bring us fantastic highs and depressing lows, though I think that night in October was a seminal moment because it was so painful to go through, yet somehow we managed to get through it. With that small success came a small dose of confidence.

I believe that success comes from two primary things: doing something you love to do and the liberal application of focused work. When I was building up WebSurveyor my passion was building software that people really enjoyed using. If it made them productive and happy and that feedback reached me it was like a powerful narcotic - I loved that feeling.

I also loved the feeling of running my own company. I had been yanked around by the companies I had worked for in the past far too much to turn the control of my career over to someone else again. That was also a huge driver for me personally.

I believe that was the key to getting through the tough times. I always knew that the product we were building was the best on the market. All we needed to do was stick with it long enough to get that momentum. I'm just grateful that we didn't give up when it looked tough - we just kept our focus and had a fundamental belief that we were doing the right thing.

If you have entertained the thought of starting your own business it must be by doing something you really love. I have met several would be entrepreneurs that fantasize an IPO or sale and believe that is the fuel that will drive them. You can see it when they talk about their business plans and see the sparkle in their eyes when they describe the equity event - they are far more excited about that than anything else. I believe that kind of thinking leads to compromised ethics and poor attitudes towards customers and employees.

If you do something you are genuinely passionate about it will build the confidence you need to be successful. In my view passion and commitment lead to confidence, which then leads to success. 

There's your answer Marty!

Startup 101: Quitting the day job

I mentioned before that I wanted to write about starting up a company and figured this would be a good time to do it. Moving forward I'll put Startup 101 in the title of these posts so that readers that come for my Mac experience won't have to sift through these if they don't want to. My hope though is that everyone can gain some value from this; if not for specific advice on how to build a company from scratch but for the stories that come from those experiences.

Don't worry - I will keep writing about Mac too!

Getting Started
In September of 1997 I decided that I wanted to create something that would leverage the internet. The Dot Com era was really starting to take off and with the internet I saw a tremendous opportunity to create rich Windows based applications that would leverage the power of a common network accessible by anyone.

By day I was a mild mannered User Interface Architect, responsible for developing user interface concepts and models for the technology division of a large publishing empire. I made a good living, worked on some neat technology and was well regarded by my superiors. But by night I was an obsessed workaholic Entrepreneur, trying to come up with a cool idea upon which I could build a business.

The idea I came up with was to build a tool for creating web based surveys. I wanted something that was really simple and easy to use. I cast about for a name and finally settled on WebSurveyor. The tool would allow people to create and publish a survey on the web, then collect and analyze the results. I wanted to make it so that anyone inside a company could do this, not just techies or the IT department. 

From September 1997 until June 1998 I worked nights and weekends building WebSurveyor, often putting in 40-50 hours beyond the 40 I was putting in with the day job. It was painful at times, but usually I enjoyed it and it didn't seem like work.

In June of 1998 I formally launched the product. I had no idea how to market it and I fumbled around, trying to get Yahoo to place it properly in their directory and promote it on certain web sites. Marketing products on the internet in 1998 was hardly a science; it was still the wild west.

I slowly started to grow the business and by September of 1998 I was ready to quit my day job and focus more time on WebSurveyor. Not that WebSurveyor was generating a lot of revenue - I was selling it as shareware at the time. You tried it and if you liked it you would pay me $149 and I'd send you a registration code. By September of 1998 my income was barely over $1200 / month in sales.

At the time I was 35 years old, had a wife that stayed home with my three young kids, a mortgage and car payment, hardly any savings and nearly $19K in credit card debt. Just thinking about my financial situation put my heart in the target aerobic range , which was good since I didn't have time to exercise.

In order to make ends meet I decided to do contract software development gigs. A couple of good friends had started a technology consulting firm and offered me a contract job for 3 months. With that thin rope firmly attached to my waist I leapt out of regular paychecks and job security and into the gaping maw of self employment.

Taking on a Partner
By the beginning of 1999 my business had started to look like it could go somewhere. I was generating close to $3K a month in revenue - a nice boost from just a couple of months earlier. I couldn't make a living off it yet and was still dependent on my contract software work but I figured that if I could just get someone to focus on marketing the product it could get really big.

I met the guy that would become a good friend and partner - Tom Lueker - through a technology networking event. We hit it off and after just a month I realized that Tom was about as driven as I was, if not more so. Tom had some success before and could work for a while without being paid so he joined me as Chief Marketing Officer and I gave up a pretty size-able portion of the company in return for Tom coming on board. 

Tom had a very different approach to WebSurveyor than I did - while I was focused on building a software company, he recognized that what we really needed to do was give the software away free and provide the back-end services to host people's surveys for them. At first I resisted but after many a late night argument decided that it was worth a shot. I spent the next couple of months changing WebSurveyor to use only our servers and built a back end administration system. I used what little money we made in acquiring hosting equipment and in July of 1999 we launched WebSurveyor 2.0.

We stopped selling WebSurveyor 1.0 - the software version - a couple of months earlier. By the end of our first month with the new model we tallied up our results. We had made $211. Let me spell that out: Two Hundred Eleven Dollars and no cents.  I was beginning to think we had made a mistake.

We stuck it out though, trying to figure out what people wanted, learning how to sell it better, tracking web site visitors and seeing where they fell off, etc.  By the end of 1999 we were back to where we were at the beginning of the year, though we were ramping much faster.

Going in to 2000 we still were not generating enough revenue to pay ourselves - Tom was taking a tiny salary since he didn't have any other income and was living off savings. I was entirely dependent on my contract software work. The rest of the money went right back into the business.

Adding another Partner
We knew we wanted to expand the business and to do that we needed money. Then I could devote all my energy into WebSurveyor, both Tom and I could get a paycheck and we would have the money to build up a sales team to take the product to the next level.

A friend introduced us to Bruce Mancinelli and both Tom and I knew we had found the guy that could get us to the next level. Bruce had lots of C-level experience, had run companies before and knew the investment community pretty well. Most importantly, Bruce was willing to work without a salary until we were able to land some funding.

I gave up my CEO title to Bruce and became the CTO. Bruce immediately set about getting us in front of venture firms and within a couple of months had landed us a meeting with the Capital Investors Group, which gave us an angel round of funding to get us moving.

The three of us set about building up the company as quickly as we could. Little did we know that our challenges were just beginning.

Up next: Getting through the tough times.

Mac: VMWare Fusion and Visual Studio 2008 Express Edition

I'm traveling right now and don't have access to all of my normal development tools but since I do have my handy MacBook I figured I would try a little experiment. Here's what I have set up right now:

Windows XP SP2, fully patched

I allocated 1GB of RAM to the VM for Windows XP and it worked great - plenty of headroom to run applications. I've said it before but it bears repeating since I know based on the comments that a few people that are Windows folks are considering trying out a Mac:

Windows runs really well, even on my lowly little MacBook. I did bump my memory up to 4GB, which I think is really important, but standard Windows applications (not games mind you - not even attempting that on a MacBook) work great.

To maximize screen real estate - really important on a MacBook - I run Windows XP in full screen mode. This still allows me to access spaces easily. 

I was able to get Visual Studio 2008 Express installed without any problems. Early in the setup VS08 rebuilds much of it's library, so it's a chance to see the impact it has while running full bore. On my machine during peak compile times the CPU ran a steady 50% utilization. I jumped into other Mac applications, including Safari while it was working and experienced no noticeable degradation in performance.

Once I had VS08 up and running it ran really smoothly. I didn't stress it too much - just a couple of browser based applications - but it was able to load them up in IE and I could run through the debugger just fine. During these minimal tests the CPU barely broke a sweat.

To give you a sense of what's possible to run on a little MacBook, here I am using Spaces to run NetNewsWire, iTunes, iChat, Safari and finally a full screen Windows XP (lower right) with Visual Studio 2008 Express Edition loaded and running.

What's great about this is that I can rapidly switch between environments. Windows performance - even in a VM - is snappy. I notice a little window "tearing" when dragging windows quickly. I think that's probably a function of the way graphics are handled on a MacBook - no dedicated video card. The MacBook Pro does have a dedicated video card so it may not have this issue.

One thing I have noticed with the MacBook is that I do take a pretty decent CPU hit when viewing flash based sites. It's not nearly as bad with QuickTime video (interesting, huh?). When I speak to friends that have iMacs or Mac Pros they don't see any CPU hit when watching Flash based stuff.

Based on the results I've had I think I'm going to try loading up VS05 with my current product build into a VM and see what the performance is like. My project has gotten pretty large and uses some aftermarket controls for UI, so it will be a good test. I also am debugging my application using SQL Server Compact Edition so it's a pretty tall order.

On my Windows XP development box - a beast of a machine with an EVGA 680i mobo, Intel QX6700 processor, EVGA 8800GTX video and matched Corsair memory I take a significant CPU hit when VS05 decides to refactor my code while using certain design surfaces. 

I have no doubt the MacBook will also strain under that burden but it will be interesting to see if it is still useable when that happens.

There is a storm coming on the web...

... and Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software and the author of the blog Joel on Software has summed it up in a brilliant post on his blog. It's a little long but if you are a web developer or are even mildly interested in what is happening with web standards you really should read Martian Headsets. Be patient and read through his analogy because in the second half of the article he gets to the root of the problem.

This issue is important to Mac users because like it or not many sites continue to use IE as the standard for building their web sites. If you want to create a web site - or more importantly web application - that includes more advanced features like menu systems, JavaScript driven controls, etc. then the coming release of IE 8 could have a dramatic impact on how you construct your site. Joel gives a great background to the whole issue.

As I am currently in the process of building a web based application for public use it has a huge impact on me. Should I compromise the application's UI because I can't get the flexible data presentation grid that works everywhere? 

DIV based windows within a web application can dramatically improve the quality of the user experience, but if they look like crap or don't even appear they are going to kill the user experience anyway. JavaScript event handlers are critical to improving the reaction time for the application but will suck it if they don't work as intended.

I could build a Flash based interface but there are a large number of browsers in corporate environments that block Flash and it doesn't appear Flash will be an option on the iPhone any time soon. That's a market that I would like my application to be able to run in.

I know I'm going to support IE7, Firefox and Safari - which in itself is a huge amount of work, but is IE8 going to throw a wrench in that plan? The appeal to building web based applications over client based applications is that users don't have to download anything and you can build them to work on virtually any OS that has a good web browser. The definition of a "good web browser" is already suspect - with IE8 it may be nearly impossible.

Mac: Have you tried using the Option key?

I'm not sure that everyone reads the comments in this blog but for those that don't sgt-phail mentioned something that I think is worth putting a quick post in about: using the Option key while performing actions with menus. It opens up a lot of different options for the same menu items in most of the native OS X apps. Try it in Finder, Safari, etc.

What I like is that it's very dynamic. I can pull down (or pop up) a menu and while it's displayed hit the Option key and the menu immediately changes. I don't have to be holding down Option initially to see the variations.

One of the reasons I really like the OS X UI is that it does a wonderful job of providing features in a progressive disclosure model that works for me. While I was just starting out on my Mac nearly everything I needed was right there. Once I needed to do something off the beaten path I just had to dig a little bit and the next layer of options became available to me.

I realize that this kind of capability has been on Mac for decades but for the great majority of people that have just adopted Mac as their new platform it's pretty cool stuff.

Changing the default PDF viewer

Last week a friend sent me a PDF that had some rich content embedded in it; a small video that Mac Preview would not let me see. I really like Preview but figured I might as well grab the free Acrobat Reader so that I could view the more advanced PDFs people were creating.

 Adobe Acrobat Reader is a pretty big install but after doing so I was able to see the PDF file - and its embedded video - just fine. There was a catch though; Acrobat is slower than Preview and now it was my default PDF viewer.

For the life of me I could not figure out how to make Preview my default viewer again. I right clicked on a PDF file and from the pop-up menu selected Open With - the sub menu that appeared allowed me to open it in Preview but not set that as the default.

At this point I did what I always do - Google up the problem and look for a solution. One of the first solutions I found was to use RCDefaultApp - a preferences pane add-in that allows you to see and set the default applications for file types, MIME types, etc. It worked great but I kept thinking that it was silly that I would need an add-on in order to do this. I am going to keep RCDefaultApp around though - it's pretty handy.

Finally, the way to do it in OS X
I finally managed to find it with a little more Google work. Right click on a file, select Get Info and, at the bottom of the Get Info window was an "Open With" area. From there I could see and set the default viewer and also click the Change All button to change it for everything.

Not long after I put this up Jerome put in a comment that you can hold down the Option key while right clicking and the menu selection changes to Always Open With - no need to even go into the Get Info window. Thanks Jerome!

Now I can see my PDFs quickly in the native Preview application and use Acrobat Reader when I need the extra features it affords.

Ever wonder what happens when you get Dugg?

I started up this blog in early February, the day after I got my MacBook. It was going to be cathartic for me - something to break up the time I was spending while building the foundation for my next company. 

Because I included a reference to my blog in my sigs at Mac-Forums I started getting a little traffic. With friends and the folks from that forum popping in I was averaging about 20 unique visitors a day. The nice folks at Digital Apple Juice asked if they could reprint my blog there. Sure, why not? That also generated some traffic.

I was running Google Analytics and, other than a mental lapse for a couple days in late February where I removed the tracking script, my traffic looked like this:

Up to this point in time I had 716 visits and 1,441 page views. It was simply bubbling along.

I noticed that the folks at Digital Apple Juice were getting digs on their articles so I figured I'd try that myself. I added the little Digg box in the top right of my templates and submitted my first post about a Windows developer getting a Mac. I did this on Thursday, March 13, in the morning.

I got a couple of Diggs that first day. Just a few though. Friday morning I checked on my stats and it looked like I was getting a spike in traffic. I went out to lunch with a friend and while away I was besieged with e-mails telling me that people had been commenting on my blog. Suddenly iChat was popping up windows from friends telling me that I was on the Digg front page!

There were nice comments, strongly opinionated comments and some flat out "hater" comments in there. I immediately took the anonymous commenting functionality off because there was a direct correlation between the "you suck..." and anonymous. They all wanted to cast stones while wearing masks. Mob mentality at its finest.

Fortunately I use Blogger to host this blog because this is what my traffic looked like by Saturday morning:

For Friday alone I had received over 1800 diggs, which translated into 63,694 visits and nearly 93,000 page views. Saturday dropped to 11,762 visits and nearly 18K page views. The 15 minutes of fame that being Dugg affords is now passing. It was a bit of a rush to get up into the Top 10 topics on Digg (#5 was the highest I saw).

So what made that particular post tip? Clearly it was because the Windows vs Mac argument continues to bring heated debate. I imagine if I put up a post about Linux vs Windows it would likely also bring lots of traffic, though there are many posts like that on Digg that never generate any traffic. Clearly something hit a nerve. Was it the fact that my picture - which got sucked in from the about me part of the page - made it a personal statement? Likely it was a combination of those.

If I was driving traffic to this blog to monetize it with ads (which I am not) it may be worthwhile to try creating controversy to drive traffic, though that doesn't really sound like a fun business to me.

As an entrepreneur that builds applications that use the Internet I continue to be fascinated by what makes a meme happen. My little flirtation with Digg popularity finally gives me some data points on it that I know are real. I hope by sharing this with you that you find something valuable in it as well.

Where did all my disk space go? Disk Inventory X tells you

I recently bumped up the disk storage on my MacBook. The 120GB stock drive could not handle all of the things I wanted to do on the machine. Between my photo collection, videos for editing and all the software I've been trying out, I needed more space. So I got as much disk as would fit (at the time) into my MacBook: a 320GB drive from Western Digital. Formatted it dropped down to just under 300GB but that was plenty of space for what I needed.

I became very cavalier about my disk usage since I had so much and just 6 weeks into my Mac experience I was burning up over 240GB of disk space! Okay, a lot of that was video but there's a lot of other things in there too.

Paul, a commenter on one of my blog posts recommended that I try out Disk Inventory X, a tool for determining where all the space went. Disk Inventory X builds a graphical tree of where your disk space is being used and gives you some basic management capabilities while in there - which is deleting files for the most part.

It takes a little while to load - at least against the 240GB of files I had - because it rips through your entire hard drive looking for every file. Took about 2 minutes to display the main window, though it's plenty quick after that. There's a MacBreak Minute video the author hosts that walks you through the application - it's a link on his home page.

If you are low of disk space or are just wondering where all that free space went, check it out.

Gmail Notifier for Mac

Since I made the switch to Gmail as my primary e-mail tool I had settled into what I figured was a good model. I would leave Safari running Gmail up in a window and then have Mail running in another "Space", polling my e-mail through the IMAP interface.

I liked this because Mail then kept all of my mail synchronized locally. If I unplugged for a bit and needed to grab a message, most of my mail was current and I could get to it. I still use Safari and the Gmail interface to create and generally read my messages though.

The problem is Google's implementation of IMAP apparently leaves much to be desired. What I found in Mail was that if I sent it from Mail a new label was created in Gmail called Sent Messages. I didn't really like that. In addition the Junk Email filter in Mail was getting false-positives on some of my e-mail, and a new label called Junk Email was created in my Gmail account; Mail would move what it considered junk into that label.

So, in the end it has become a little painful. Not too bad mind you, but enough to make me look around. What I really wanted was near instant notification of a new message arriving in my Gmail account.

I had already been using Gmail Notifier on my Windows XP machine and found it quite handy. Sure enough Google had a Mac version when I checked so I figured I'd give it a spin.

I won't go into too much detail talking about it because this little video does a great job walking you through it:

I've now put Mail on the back burner and am using this to keep track of not only my e-mails but also my upcoming calendar events. It's pretty cool.

Windows vs Mac - can't we all just get along?

In the spring of 1992 I lived in Los Angeles, Ca. Not long after the riots commenced Rodney King, the man beaten by LAPD officers and the incident that proved the flash point for the riots, made the now famous plea "Can't we all just get along?"

It simply amazes me how people become so religious about a particular topic, especially the now painfully tired Windows vs Mac debate. Both platforms have advantages and disadvantages. I used to hate Mac - mainly because it was yet another platform I had to support as a developer. I would spend extraordinary amounts of time to craft a great application, only to have a vocal minority of the population complain that it wouldn't work on their Macs.

When that happened I did what any other normal, rational person would do. I ignored them. They didn't represent enough of a financial opportunity for me to even consider developing there.

The emergence of the web as an application platform nullified that debate to a large degree, at least for developers. It wasn't that long ago that commercial Windows developers were more consumed with variations of Windows installations (16 vs 32 bit, COM libraries, ComCtrl.dll versions, etc., etc). In the space of a few short years the web stopped being a high level presentation medium and became a platform for building very capable applications.

I know this - I built a successful business on the Windows client model and had to experience that painful transition to the web firsthand.

All of a sudden the developers that I knew stopped caring about Windows implementations and started worrying about HTML compliance, browser versions, JavaScript and DHTML. Just when my fellow Windows developers had mastered the Windows platform and had highly advanced tools to make it really easy to knock out killer applications, they became somewhat irrelevant.  Everyone I knew was telling me that client applications were dead and that it was all about the web as a platform.

It took me a really long time to accept this. It's because I'm stubborn and I had invested so much in Windows development already. I didn't want to take a huge step back and have to learn a whole new tool set. In the end I decided I'd better embrace the future and accept the web as a great model for building real applications, otherwise I may become a COBOL programmer waiting for a Y2K event to give me something to do.

Change is really friggin hard. Most people hate it and I'm like most people.

I tell you this because when I decided to look at the Mac as a personal computing solution I did so in part because I wanted to see what everyone was talking about. I had made the change from a custom client model to a web model and I guess it had broken down my resistance for exploring new technology.

As you may be able to tell from my other blog posts, I really like my Mac. That doesn't mean I hate Windows; I still use my XP machine every day. Doesn't mean I hate Linux; I have a wonderful little Ubuntu machine right behind me that I use occasionally.

Can a Mac get a virus? Sure it can - there just aren't any out there yet that I'm aware of. Trust me when I tell you that it is possible to build a virus for any programmable computer. It may not be able to wreak serious havoc and reproduce at will but it can do damage in other ways. Can a Windows machine get a virus? Sure it can - and you need to run anti-virus software OR be very aware of what you do in order to avoid them. Linux is in the same boat as Mac. These are simple facts.

That said, I'm going to go back to writing about the cool things I've discovered for my Mac. I'll also be writing about starting a technology business from scratch - something I'm doing again now. If you find this stuff interesting I encourage you to jump in and sign up for my RSS feed.


Now I want to buy my wife a Mac

I am married to a wonderful woman - for the last 21 years I've been blessed with a fantastic life partner. She's a brilliant lady with several graduate degrees to her credit, an accomplished attorney and teacher, someone that has succeeded in virtually everything she has set out to do. She even pulled all this off while we raised three incredible children. 

Unfortunately she's had me to serve as her technical crutch for the last two decades so she's never really become proficient with computers. Sure, she can buy stuff on the web as well as anyone can and she's gotten pretty good with e-mail since I switched her to Gmail but outside of that...

She has an HP Laptop running Windows XP - it's about 2 years old. I've got the thing pretty well protected, paying my annual mob "protection" money to anti-virus vendors to keep her machine safe since even though I warn her not to click on everything people send her she still manages to install crap on the machine.

"But it says I needed to install that in order to view the pictures my friend sent...".  When I explain to her that digital photos should not require any software to be installed to view because they should be in a standard digital format she just gives me that blank stare.

I try to patiently explain to her that many companies want to you to install these applications because they will grab information about what you do and send it back to the company. "It's called Spyware".  That gets a slight flutter from her eyes - I'm thinking I am getting through.

"So I can't install that software to look at the pictures?"

Argh! This goes on every couple of months.  This morning we had another issue; her computer would not allow her to get into her account - every time she logged in it would restart the machine.  I ended up having to simply power the machine completely off (holding down the power button for 5 seconds) in order to stop the cycle.

In this case Microsoft had graced us with an auto-update overnight that required a reboot and something went screwy. I'm pretty confident my wife would not know (or care to learn) how to really restart her Windows machine.

While checking out the machine after getting it to log in properly I noticed that it was running pretty slowly. Several years of software being installed and leaving their little footprints in the registry were having an impact. With all the anti-virus software running (the entire Norton control center) the machine just runs... slowly.

It's still a serviceable machine, but I wonder if my life would be a little easier if I got her a nice little iMac. She would have her little iSight camera to talk to our daughter when she wants to. The new iMac would be blazingly fast compared to the AMD driven HP she's using now. Though she has a laptop it's permanently attached to her desk and never moves so portability isn't an issue.

Best of all, I wouldn't get that constant concern that she had installed spyware, malware, trojans, etc. on her machine. Sure that could happen on a Mac but it's far less likely. It's assured on Windows XP and her HP doesn't have the horsepower to run Vista.

In case you're wondering, I'm trying to talk myself into getting her one.

iPhoto vs Picasa

One of the things I imagined would be a no-brainer when I started using my Mac was that all my photo work would be done on it. After all, Apple makes a pretty big deal that iLife (with iPhoto, iMovie, etc) is great for managing media like that. The reality is that it's been more difficult than I thought it would be.

For a non-professional photographer I take a lot of photos, especially when playing tourist. I have an excellent "Prosumer" camera: the Canon 30D, with a few decent lenses. I've got just over 19K pictures in my library and up to this point in time I used Picasa, the free photo management solution from Google.

Picasa has been wonderful for me. It does exactly what I need it to do which is ride herd on my photo collection. It tracks my folders just like I have them on disk, creates a huge contact sheet that I can scroll through very quickly and allows me to do quick and dirty editing. Most of my editing is removing the occasional red-eye and adjusting lighting. I'll sometimes use it to straighten out a picture or crop it too, but if I do much more than that it's off to Photoshop.

Getting the photos into iPhoto
I figured that I would simply blast those pictures into iPhoto and away I would go. My first step was to copy the 45GB of photos to my MacBook. Next, I imported them into iPhoto. It took a while to get that many photos in.

I was now using 90GB of disk space, not 45GB! The default installation of iPhoto takes the photos and copies them into a single large iPhoto library file. Once the files were in there I could delete them from my hard drive, but that meant that my photos moving forward would be stored in that file. I later learned that you can set up iPhoto to work nearly exactly like Picasa: leave the photos in their original location and view them in iPhoto. When I get a little time I'll move to that model.

One catch I experienced: Picasa leaves your photos in their original directory. If you retouch a photo it makes a copy under that directory and places the originals in there. When I imported the photos into iPhoto it also pulled in the originals.

iPhoto has two primary views: Events and Photos. I'm not sure what the significance is when it comes to how the pictures are broken up. It appears that both views categorize the pictures in the same way: they use whatever underlying folder structure you had to break up the pictures. Since I had a bunch of "originals" folders under my main folders, every other event had an adjacent "originals" folder. Not much could be done about that - just the nature of moving from Picasa to iPhoto.

I really do wish that iPhoto would break up the events into the days that the pictures were actually taken. Not the date/time stamp of the file but the date/time stamp embedded into the picture. That would really make it easier to find things.

What I Miss from Picasa
This list is surprisingly short: I miss the ability to zoom in on my previews while in iPhoto. If I am looking at all of my photos as a kind of contact sheet and double click on an item to make it expand to fill the window, I cannot zoom in further unless I switch into edit mode. There's a little zoom control in the lower right corner but it's disabled in preview. I am constantly tripping on that.

What I Like in iPhoto
Slide shows in iPhoto are excellent. It includes a "Ken Burns" effect that can be controlled very easily. I can add in music from iTunes or Garage Band and make something that just looks excellent.

The photo information can be edited in batch! That's great when your wife's digital camera runs out of juice for so long that it resets the date time to January 1, 2000 when she recharges it and every picture she takes has a date/time stamp from 7 years earlier.

While I haven't used it yet, the ability to have iPhoto just make a photo book for you is pretty darn cool. I realize that many online photo services like and Shutterfly have done this for years but the way iPhoto builds them is sweet.

Now that I've worked through my initial frustrations with iPhoto I think it's actually going to be able to replace my beloved Picasa.

Jan 5, 2009 NOTE: Now that Google has released Picasa for Mac I have an updated post that covers it: First Impressions of Picasa for Mac.