2010 has seen some shifts in my usage of computer technology.

After many months pooh-poohing the iPad (after all, what would I need an unfeasibly large iPod Touch for, anyway?), I had something of a change of heart. This was largely brought about by a trip to the USA for a conference – after a bit of thought, I picked up a 64Gb WiFi iPad, which proved an excellent device to cart about documents, pdfs, books, music and video. I’ve previously posted an overview of my favourite apps for the iPad, but this list just keeps on growing. Recent additions to the roster include:

  • Air Display – this enables the iPad to be used as a second monitor for a Mac or PC, though sadly not Linux. It’s pretty cool, but it remains to be seen how useful it is in practice.
  • World of Goo – I recently bought the ludicrously popular Angry Birds for the iPad, but in my view, World of Goo (originally available for several platforms including Wii, Windows, OSX and Linux) is possibly the most charming app I’ve bought, beats Angry Birds hands down, and is a game format which works almost perfectly with the iPad’s touch screen display. In my less well-guarded moments, I’ve been known to comment it is the kind of thing the iPad must have been invented for.
  • Flipboard is a neat app which uses a neat and intuitive interface to let you rapidly and easily access news from a variety of sources, including Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader, and more beside. This is a useful an imaginative way to get at these feeds. I’d previously used The Feed to monitor Google Reader, but it seems to be rather flaky since the iOS 4.2 update.

In any event, the iPad has become a pretty indispensable tool for me, not only at home where I use it for web browsing, controlling the Squeezebox music system etc, but at work, where it’s a star turn for MS Outlook related activities, note taking and holding my collection of pdf documents.

Every so often, I come across an iPad app that really changes the way I think of interacting with a computer (even if the iOS family of devices should really be classed as ‘appliances’, rather than computers).  Even my initial antipathy towards the App Store and it’s Jobsian control freakery has lifted somewhat.  I’m very much less enthusiastic about the prospect of the soon to be launched Mac App Store (of which more later).

Just as that seemed to be pushing my usage of Linux into the background, I had so much hassle delivering a PowerPoint presentation that included video clips that I decided to plump for a Mac laptop, choosing a 13″ MacBook Pro. Since that time, I’ve spent a fair amount of my computer use with OSX. Interestingly, and this perhaps reflects my own preferences and expertise, I don’t find OSX as wonderful an operating system as its often very vocal supporters would have it. While I hugely prefer it to Windows 7 (a aesthetic disaster in my opinion, though it does seem pretty solid and a big improvement over Vista), I don’t find the Mac way of doing things superior to the configurability of a decent Linux distribution such as my favourite of the last few years, Ubuntu.  I occasionally toy with the idea of installing Ubuntu on the MacBook…

Mostly I dislike OSX’s use of an application dependent desktop menu bar (I don’t know what it’s called in OSX). This seems to fly in the face of reason, and makes it a bit harder for me to know what windows are open. And why can’t finder include a toggle to show/hide hidden files? Anyway, using the MacBook pro is generally speaking a delight, not least because of the physical quality of the hardware.

As for the App Store for Macs (to be launched early in January, I believe), well, I’ve been very happy with the Debian derived Ubuntu repositories from where software can be installed pretty much at will.  And as it’s all open source, generally at no additional cost.  One of the disturbing things about buying into a closed source OS ecosystem is that a new computer comes with little in the way of serious applications, in contrast to the typical new Linux installation.  It’s amusing to see how I’ve pretty much stocked my new MacBook Pro with a variety of open source software (sometimes not open source but free in the financial sense) that I’ve used for a long time on my various Linux machines, applications such as GIMP, OpenOffice.org, Firefox, GoldenCheetah, Filezilla, Mendeley Desktop – the list goes on.  I even found a file manager (XFolders) which lets me see hidden files!

Having said that, I picked up iWorks quite cheaply when I bought the MacBook, mostly for Keynote, but I’ve found Pages to be rather a nice word processor too.  I have the iPad iWorks apps as well.

At work I was supplied with a new desktop PC, and even better I’ve been allowed to install Linux on it!  Of course, I’m on my own in terms of configuring it…not much Linux support at work unfortunately, outside of a neighbouring Department’s Linux cluster.  I’ve already got it synchronising my documents folder with its counterpart on rather aged (nearly four years old now) Sony Vaio notebook which currently runs Ubuntu 10.10.

At home I configured an old desktop PC with Mythbuntu.  This works really very well (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), but the case is so unsightly that I’ve removed it from the sitting room. I’m now planning to reversion an old laptop as a Mythbuntu front-end for it.  In fact  the Mythbuntu box proved to be very much more reliable than our Humax box (which needs to be reformatted two or three times a year).  I guess I’ll work on this over the coming weeks.

I’ve extended the home network to include a Squeezebox Radio, and couple of Squeezeslaves running on the MacBook Pro and on a desktop PC running Ubuntu 10.10.  So I’ve got music systems all over the house…