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From iPhoto to Aperture

Written by clinton1550 Tuesday, 06 April 2010 21:22

It used to be easy to see the difference between iPhoto and Aperture. iPhoto was the simple, consumer-oriented one that was less powerful but had a nicer interface, while Aperture was the powerful professional one that was a bit intimidating to use. So the choice was simple. Now, it's less so.

A few years ago, I downloaded the 30-day free trial of Aperture 1.0. I didn’t know much about Aperture, other than it was Apple’s own professional photo-management application and that it was supposed to be very good. I was quite happy using iPhoto but I thought I’d try Aperture, just for the fun of it.

I’m certain that I only used about ten seconds of that 30-day trial. I opened Aperture up, found the interface to be a bit daunting and promptly closed it. My intention was to sit down one weekend and really get to know the interface but I never got around to that. I let the trial expire.

Less than a year later, Apple released Aperture 2. Again, I intended to download the trial and give it a whirl — especially seeing "interface improvements" among the marquee features — but I never got around to it. When Apple released iPhoto ’09 with Faces and Places a year after that, I couldn't see a reason to bother with Aperture anymore.

Apple updated Aperture to 3.0 in February and one feature immediately caught my eye: Places. Earlier in the year, I wrote an article about what features I would like in the next version of iPhoto, and Places was one of the areas that I thought needed significant improvement. It seems that an executive at Apple read that article and decided to upsell me to Aperture.

Places in Aperture 3 solves all the problems I had with Places in iPhoto. Aperture 3’s Places has a split-screen system: photos on the bottom, Google Maps up top. Geotagging images is far from clumsy: just drag and drop a photo onto the map. You can even import GPX tracks into Aperture for display and geotagging photos.

So, with renewed interest in Aperture, I downloaded the free trial and bought the full version a week later. I’m pleased I bought Aperture 3 but it hasn’t been smooth sailing all the way.

I had a few problems just downloading the trial version. On the morning that Apple updated Aperture, I requested a trial license with my .Mac account. The license hadn’t turned up by late afternoon so I requested another, this time with my Gmail account. The Gmail license turned up immediately, the .Mac license turned up two days later — so I’m glad I didn’t wait. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had trouble getting a license from Apple. I talked to a few people on Twitter who had the same problem.

Once I downloaded and installed Aperture 3, I imported 5000 photos from my iPhoto Library to play around with. The import took less then an hour and was pretty straightforward. I spent whatever free time I had over the next few days mucking about in Aperture. I put a slideshow together, made a book, played around with Faces and Places. It wasn’t long before I decided that I would buy a boxed copy on the weekend.

Once I had a boxed copy, the next step was to transfer my entire iPhoto Library over to Aperture. Moving 33,000 photos taking up 100GB was a monumental task — a monumental task that I’ve had to perform three times.

The first transfer was done on a 320GB FireWire 800 drive. I thought that the transfer would be faster if both my iPhoto Library and my new Aperture Library were on the same drive. So I cleared some space, moved my iPhoto Library to the drive and created an Aperture Library right along side it. All I had to do was select the “Import iPhoto Library…” option from Aperture’s File menu and leave it going overnight.

I woke up the next morning to find that the import had driven my Mac mini to the brink of insanity. First, it wouldn’t accept any mouse input — no tracking, no clicking — but the keyboard worked just fine. Then I couldn’t get any keyboard input — I couldn’t click with my mouse but I could track. A bit later on my Mac mini started accepting some keyboard commands. I lost the menu bar, the Dock sort of worked, I couldn’t switch applications — there wasn’t much that I could do.

I eventually managed to open Activity Monitor to find out what was going on. CPU usage was fine, RAM seemed to be fine but I discovered that I was rapidly running out of space on the FireWire drive, I had 3GB left and Aperture was still importing. I couldn’t get into the Finder to move files off the drive so I ended up using my PowerBook to SSH into my Mac mini and mv a heap of folders to another drive.

The emergency move worked. I freed up 30GB of space, but my Mac mini was still exhibiting some very strange behaviour.

I’d like to take a moment to praise Mac OS X for being so stable. It was running out of resources but it ploughed on, I didn’t get a Kernel Panic, nothing actually crashed and Aperture finished the import. A quick restart later and everything was back to normal.

I later found out that many other users had been reporting similar problems when importing an iPhoto Library into Aperture. Turns out that a bug in Faces was causing Aperture to hoard tons of Virtual Memory, choking OS X of resources. The bug was fixed in the Aperture 3.0.1 update which was released less than a week later.

Once the 3.0.1 update was out, I decided that I should re-import my iPhoto Library. Although the first import was a success, there were a few things missing — Aperture didn’t get to finish the final processing phase of the import. This time, I moved my iPhoto Library to a separate FireWire 800 drive and gave Aperture the entire 320GB drive all to itself. The second import went much more smoothly. It took about the same amount of time and the processing phase finished just as it should. However, Aperture got stuck on Places lookup — so when looking at photos on the map, Aperture didn’t know the names of the places.

Apple released Aperture 3.0.2 a few weeks later, which fixed a number of issues including problems that occurred while importing iPhoto Libraries. So I thought I should import my Library for a third time and, yes, third time lucky. The third import was a complete success, everything worked exactly as it should, I am satisfied with my new Library and I’m never going to do that again. As I said, it is a monumental task.

Unfortunately, my Aperture woes didn’t stop at importing photos. I also had trouble with Faces. When naming people in Faces, Aperture would interpret the letter "s" as an “m”, the letter “g” as an “o” and “t” as “p”. It took five tries to get each letter right. This bug was finally fixed in 3.0.2, so I'm glad I don't have to put up with that anymore.

But there is still one thing about Faces that needs fixing: the performance.

Faces beachballs like you wouldn't believe. I type a letter to name someone, beachball. I finish typing someone's name and hit return, beachball. I click on a photo, beachball. I try to confirm faces, beachball. Beachball, beachball, beachball. Honestly, I've never seen an Apple application perform this badly. I did a very unscientific test comparing the performance of Faces in Aperture to Faces in iPhoto. I could name the same number of faces significantly more quickly in iPhoto than I could in Aperture. I don’t know why Aperture is so slow — maybe it’s doing something extra in the background — but I’ve given up on Faces. It’s too slow to be bothered with.

I’m really pleased that I bought Aperture 3. Switching from iPhoto to Aperture was pretty rough at the start but I feel the move has been worth it. There’s a huge amount of power hidden inside Aperture, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it can do. There’s still a lot left to learn so I better get back to it.

Between keywords, labels, star ratings, folders, albums and Projects, I’m a little spoilt for choice as far as organisational tools in Aperture are concerned. If you have any suggestions, let me know on MacTheForum.

 

Amazon can't lose

Written by Alex Kidman Thursday, 01 April 2010 01:29

In just a few short days, the iPad goes on sale in the USA. Some keen Aussie Apple fans are making the trek to pick one up early, and those with slightly less disposable income are awaiting the exact details of what "late April" actually means in terms of a local release date (latest rumour suggests the 24th, but, well, pinches of salt leap to mind).

The iPad is touted to be many things, but one of the key features of the platform is its ability to enable electronic publishing — whether that's the latest Stephanie Meyer insult to the humble noun or the Sydney Morning Herald. In that guise, it takes on a number of other e-reader devices, none more prominent than Amazon's Kindle e-reader.

The battle lines, it would seem, are drawn, and there can be only one winner.

OK, that's hyperbole, but go with me here. I suspect the winner will be Amazon.

Not that Amazon winning means that Apple loses; quite the reverse. Apple can still "win", in that it will sell lots and lots of iPads. If the initial sales figures are to be believed, it's already pre-sold a bucketload, although initial sales figures aren't always a good indicator of future sales performance.

That thought came to me when I was checking out Amazon's Kindle for Mac client. It's a neat enough piece of software if you already have a Kindle account, which I do owing to reviewing the initially-available Kindle late last year. It's good for displaying books and, naturally enough, there are hooks to take you (via your browser) to Amazon's Kindle store. There's also an iPhone/iPod touch application that does pretty much the same thing.

Amazon's got a lot of capacity to absorb losses (or even only partial victories) due to its widespread e-commerce stance. To describe Amazon simply as a bookseller would be to miss the point. Amazon also sells DVDs, CDs … heck, it's even possible to buy barbecue sauce via Amazon.com, although getting it shipped to Australia might be a little challenging!

Amazon's positioned itself everywhere, and nowhere is that more evident than with the Kindle, which has client applications everywhere. It seems highly unlikely that the iPhone Kindle client won't run on the iPad — it is after all, mostly text we're talking about here — and I'd hazard the guess that Amazon's programming team has an iPad client ready to go. Whether Apple would approve it is anybody's guess. The point is, you buy a Kindle book or magazine, and you can read it on your iPhone, on your iPad, on your Mac, on a PC and on a Kindle.

Buy an iPad book, and you can read it on ... an iPad.

There's no clear path for iPhone/iPod touch users to buy or read books just yet, and I doubt Apple would scupper early iPad sales by introducing that feature particularly quickly, although I'd love to be proved wrong there.

I don't own either a Kindle or an iPad yet. That's partly down to my own budgetary issues, and partly because I'm fence-sitting. Certainly, the iPad's feature set dwarfs that of the Kindle, and the pricing for the entry level model is a solid kick in the teeth for the larger Kindle DX. Looking at the bigger picture, however, I could solidly envisage buying an iPad and then filling it with Kindle books. Apple doesn't exactly lose under that scenario, but it doesn't win as many of my dollars as it could.

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Where's our new Macs?

Written by Grant Monday, 29 March 2010 23:09

There's a lot of angst in the blogosphere about lack of appearance of new MacBook and Mac Pro models from Apple. Maybe they'll just appear after iPad ships — the smart money says Apple is focusing on iPad at the moment. For very good reasons, I trust.

What all the complainers are overlooking is that Apple is currently achieving record sales. If we didn't buy its products, then Apple would worry, but not now. Apple is having record quarterly results and we've shown our approval by buying the aforementioned products. Apparently Apple doesn't need to release newer models any faster than it is. It doesn't need to keep up with competing hardware and it doesn't need to improve iPhone or even Mac OS any faster than it is right now.

Sure we'd always like updates — hardware and software sooner rather than later. The flagship iPhone is starting to look as dated as a MacPlus these days, but Apple was ever thus. We've always wanted updates sooner and Apple has always done things at its own pace. Quad-core iMacs appeared maybe a year later than it was technically feasible.

And it's true that chip technology changes so slowly these days. 20 percent CPU improvement can often be bested more cheaply by better caches, busses and faster RAM, which is what Apple has been doing with C2D machines for years.

But the lesson of the 1990s is apposite here. Apple was riding high, and it failed to innovate.  When Apple was unable to hold Windows up in the courts any longer (starting to sound familiar), Microsoft walked in with a lipservice-GUI interface and — for a few dollars less — the general public didn't care. Despite record profits now, Apple has never achieved the double-digit market penetration it had before.

Apple is riding very high now and the rumbles of dissatisfaction, no matter how petty, are growing. It would pay Apple' executives and directors to learn from the '90s, if they can. None of them were around to see exactly how Apple fell so low. Many of them were part of the solution, but that's not the same as recognising the signs and the slow burn of history repeating itself.

Apple is in a perfect position to innovate — lots of money in the bank, the Touch OS breaking out of iPhone size into netbook/iPad size, and competitors are breathing hard down its neck, so the all-important motivation should be apparent.

The Zune7 winphone looks slick enough to win customers back (even if it's still a dog to use). Android is starting to find its legs, even if its "integration" relies on customers putting their contacts and calendars (and everything else) entirely into Google. Worst of all, the pundits (and I believe the general computer buying public) perceive Windows 7 to be an equivalent computing experience to OS X. Not true, but the lesson of the '90s was "near enough is good enough" where the hip pocket is concerned.

Apple desperately needs to leap ahead of Windows or suffer the fate of the '90s all over again. Touch Mac OS for all platforms will do this, if it brings the benefits of iPhone's/iPad's more intimate interaction with the OS to the whole Apple line. We know it. The temptation to touch your Mac's screen after your first taste of iPhone was overwhelming. It took me two weeks to excise that automatic action from my brain.

Apple has benefited greatly from the minor "surface" differences between Windows and Mac OS. Mac and Windows developers are more likely to make cross-platform products (even FileMaker gets most of its money from Windows). That's the biggest inertia in the system, that a Touch OS needs to fight.

Touch Mac OS needs to offer significant productivity advantages, as cool as the first time we saw the iPhone inertial scrolling demo. iPad didn't quite grab the imagination that way on launch, no matter how "magical" it was proclaimed to be. Apple will need to work harder on porting Touch to the rest of its hardware line.

Am I unrealistic given the current inability of Apple to meet customer demand for updated MacBook and Mac Pro models? For Apple's sake, and ours, I hope not. iPad is an important first step toward weaning the public off mouse and keyboard. Let's hope it succeeds.
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Things are getting steamy

Written by Alex Kidman Thursday, 18 March 2010 00:30

It's been a little quiet on the Mac news front of late, largely due to all the regular news sources anxiously awaiting the first batch of iPads hitting the market. One of the bigger recent news stories was the announcement by previously-PC-and-console-only games publisher Valve that it would be bringing its Steam gaming service to the Mac platform.

The news is everywhere. Here's Macworld's take. Here's MacRumors'. Here, for the sake of shameless self-promotion, is even one I wrote for APCMag.com.

Is it good news? As a lifelong gamer, I'd be tempted to say yes, given that anything that expands the range of Mac games on offer is a good thing for Mac users generally. Even if you're not a gamer, anything that gets more developers on board, more sales at the cash register and more interest generally is a good thing. At a more distinct level, Valve makes some excellent games, and the official release namedrops a whole bunch of them, including Left 4 Dead 2, Portal and Half-Life.

There's even some nifty technology being brought into the Steam client to enable both cross-platform play and even cross-platform purchases and continued play through Steam Play and Steam Cloud.

At the same time, it's worth bearing in mind that Steam as a service isn't perfect, and it does bring some challenges for Mac users with it. I've used Steam on and off in its PC incarnation for a number of years now, mainly when I've had my games journalist hat on.

The very first time I ever used Steam was to install a game I had to review very quickly indeed to meet a print magazine deadline. The client itself downloaded and installed quickly, and then ... nothing. I could get a lovely little splash screen to come up, and nothing else.

A lot of frantic online searching suggested my Windows Anti-Virus package at the time may have been the problem, and replacing it did afford me a speedy resolution to the problem. You may well think that this isn't an issue for Macs (if you're a head-in-the-sand-Macs-will-never-get-viruses variety Mac user), but my problem here was that the solution wasn't forthcoming from Valve at all.

The AV vendor's support forums had people in them that had the same problem I did, and I kludged it together from there. It's not outside the realms of possibility that some esoteric bit of Mac software (or an update to, say, Mac OS 10.7 "Icy Otter") could have the same effect. Is Valve ready for Mac-based support issues?

The next issue is bandwidth. Steam patches itself, and itt patches the games you buy through the service. This is handy to an extent, but it can happen at times when it's not perhaps the most convenient. Even getting past that, the bandwidth usage ramps up rather quickly. I've had Steam games download a full 2GB of data and fail on the last percent, taking my 2GB with them. For users in parts of the world where downloads are unmetered, that may not be a major issue. Here in Australia, at least for the time being, it most definitely is.

It's also very unclear what the status of non-Valve games is.

"Our Steam partners, who are delivering over a thousand games to 25 million Steam clients, are very excited about adding support for the Mac," said Jason Holtman, Director of Business Development at Valve in the official release.

That's a fairly bland statement that does allow Valve to release exactly zero games outside its own catalogue if agreements can't be reached. Just because unnamed "Steam partners" are "excited" doesn't mean anything will definitively happen. Some dogs I know get excited when they see me and start frantically (ahem) "attacking" my leg, but my knee is yet to give birth to a litter of puppies.

The statement also leaves very open the question of older games titles. I could see developers dipping toes into the Mac waters with new releases, but what about older titles, many of which sell on Steam at very low prices? I doubt we'll see many (if any) of the older PC titles currently available on Steam backwards-ported. In fact, some of them already have Mac equivalents through development houses such as Feral Software, and agreements in place might just prohibit it outright.

I'm guessing here, but I'd say that if you're still using a PowerPC-based Mac, Steam won't be for you. I could always be wrong. Likewise, Macs without discrete graphics might be out of the equation, although that's a bet I'd be less likely to put big money on.

All that having been said, I'll be lining up to download the Steam client when it becomes available in April. If only for the lure of Portal 2, and the ability to buy a game once across PC/Mac and play it wherever I wish. Now, if only they'd bring steam to consoles ...

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