The decline of Apple

Back in the 90s hardly anyone used Macs or Apple products. They had a small foothold in schools and graphic design shops but that was about it. The iPod was the beginning of their post-millenium rise – the 3rd generation iPod released in 2003 was the first Apple hardware I’d ever wanted, and I eventually purchased a 4th gen iPod in 2004.

The fourth generation iPod “photo” model

A few years later in 2007 the iPhone came out and completely changed what a smartphone was. Prior the the iPhone the best smartphone was probably a Blackberry, with it’s clunky little keyboard and tiny screen. But the iPhone with it’s giant glass screen and intuitive gestures was revolutionary.

The iPhone 3GS (2009), the first iPhone I owned

There’s hardly any products I can think of that I could afford to purchase the best in the world of. Take cars for example. I can’t afford a brand new Ferrari. Or TVs – I couldn’t afford (or couldn’t justify buying) a top of the line whizz-bang TV. But a phone – yes! The iPhone at the time was the best phone any money could buy. Not that I gave a shit about having an awesome phone, all I wanted at the time was to have wikipedia in my pocket so that I could be a know-all at parties.

Both the iPod and later the iPhone made people, especially us geeks, open our eyes to how good Apple’s products could be. The Macbook Air made us realise that the lightest and sexiest laptop/notebook was also made by Apple. Apple started shipping with Intel processors! Within a couple of years Apple laptops were everywhere, even at conferences for us Windows developers.

I never considered myself an Apple fanboy, but here I am in 2017 typing this on my trusty Macbook Air, with my aging iPhone 5 alongside, and an iPad sitting on the windowsill (which I still never use). At the time of each purchase it wasn’t that I wanted to buy an Apple product, it was just that I wanted the best laptop/phone/tablet on the market at the time, and each of those happened to be made by Apple.

Amongst my geeky friends it was pretty much the same pattern. Mac laptops and iPhones for the most part. Not all though – some swore by Android phones.

In the last couple of years though, Apple have made a few key mistakes with their products which have seen my geek friends desert them, and I think it won’t be long before I too leave Apple products behind.

iWatch sucked

The first big Apple let down was the Apple Watch. Rumours had abounded for years that Apple would be bringing out a smartwatch that would change the world, just like the iPhone did. I was excited about it. Then when it was finally released, it was expensive and gimmicky. Hardly any of my geek friends bought one (hi Andy J, Alan, Alex).

No headphone port

Yep, another mistake was omitting the headphone port from the iPhone 7. Not a single iPhone buyer thought that was a good idea or a step forward. That small error was enough for us geeks to doubt that Apple knew what they were doing, and look at Android phones.

Downgrading the Macbook Pro

The killer mistake though was 2016’s Macbook Pro

  • More expensive
  • No USB 3.0 ports
  • No HDMI port
  • No SD card reader
  • No magsafe power
  • Similar spec CPU, memory and storage to the 2015 model
  • Lame touch bar

Although most users don’t use the F1-F12 keys on the top row of a QWERTY keyboard, us developers DO use them, so getting rid of those keys was a big deal.

See Benjamin Button reviews the new Macbook Pro

Now what?

In summary, Apple haven’t released anything amazing since Steve Jobs died.

So what’s a geek to buy in 2017 then? I don’t know – it’s not as straightforward as a couple of years ago. I usually go on my geek friends recommendations – on the phone front, Google Pixel phones are well regarded. iPhones are hanging on by their fingernails.

On the laptop front, NONE of my friends are buying new Macbooks. Microsoft(!) Surface Books or Surface Pros are looking like a good option. Windows laptops are making a comeback.

What now for Apple

For now, they’ve lost the geek crowd, and in technology where the geeks lead the world follows. Apple needs to release a new killer product to get us back. Or just drop the prices on their bloody phones and make a decent laptop again!

They have enough $$$ in the bank that they’re not gonna die any time soon, but until they win the geek crowd back I predict shrinking profits, maybe even losses, and a dropping share price for Apple (currently USD$132).


Upgrading a Haswell Macbook Air (mid-2013) to Windows 8

I recently bought a new Macbook Air for work – a mid-2013 Haswell one. I got all the optional upgrades which means it’s an i7, 8Gb of RAM and 512Gb SSD. The main reason I upgraded from my mid-2011 Macbook Air was that I wanted more RAM – with 4Gb it was struggling to run Azure VMs in Windows. Also the 256Gb SSD was stretched, I was constantly having to fight to free up disk space in both Windows and OSX. Finally, I wanted USB 3.0, so that I could use an external HDD at full speed should I need more disk space. And the new PCI-based SSD sounded tasty.

macbook air

My Windows 8 Pro license is an upgrade only license, so in order to get Windows 8 on it I first had to install Windows 7 using Boot Camp. Which went fine.

Once Windows 7 was installed I ran the Windows 8 upgrade installation. It would go through the whole process but then after a few reboots and at the end of the setup process it would hang at the “Personalise” screen, where you choose a colour scheme and a name for your computer. It wasn’t actually hung, it was just that the keyboard and mouse didn’t work so I couldn’t click next. Neither the built in keyboard nor a USB keyboard would work.

So then I tried downloading and making a Windows 8 ISO and installing from that via Boot Camp (instead of installing Win 7 first), which worked fine, but then when I Activated Windows it wouldn’t let me because I have an upgrade only Windows 8 license. Poo.

So my third attempt, and this time I installed Windows 7 first, and the Boot Camp drivers in Windows 7. Then when I ran the Windows 8 upgrade install I elected to choose to Keep Windows settings, personal files and applications – the idea being that it would keep the Boot Camp drivers installed.


Well, third time lucky anyway cos that worked.

Update: it looks like this is a known issue – see this solution.

So, how does the new Macbook perform compared to my older mid-2011 Macbook Air?

Here’s 2011’s Windows Experience Index:


And here’s 2013’s. Not really much faster!
win 7 experience

Finally, here’s 2013’s again under Windows 8:win 8 experience

The only thing worth noting is the decent hard disk rating.

Another advantage of the Haswell chipset is longer battery life – up to 12 hours according to Apple, and the reviews seem to confirm that. BUT I bought the i7 version which is a bit more of a power hog, as confirmed by AnandTech – so I only get about 6 hours of battery life, a slight improvement on the 4 hours I was getting on the 2011 i7 version.

So overall, the 2013 Air is not much of an upgrade on the 2011 version really. Which is a bit of a disappointment.

Macbook Air’s SSD died – here’s my new backup strategy

My mid-2011 Macbook Air‘s SSD died last week. I’d spent a lot of time setting this up just how I wanted: dual boot OSX and Win 7 (then Win 8) – 50Gb for each OS, and a 150 Gb shared exFat “Data” partition which is writable by both OS. The Data partition contained all my music, photos, and source code.


My backup strategy was:

  1. OSX backed itself up automatically to my Time Capsule using Time Machine.
  2. Windows I never backed up because I don’t mind re-installing a new Win machine in the event of failure since it’s a good chance to start from scratch and get rid of old crap – old versions of Visual Studio etc.
  3. The Data partition – the most important one – I backed up manually both to my Time Capsule’s shared network disk and an external USB drive, using Syncback Free. I’d usually do this once or twice a month.

I’d had an inkling that the SSD was about to die for about a week before – every morning on boot the Mac would display a flashing question mark icon. Usually it would boot OK on the second or third attempt. Until it didn’t (on my birthday, no less)…

Cue the usual ranting and gnashing of teeth. Every day I’m not working is a day I’m not getting paid (contractor, ya see). All of the Mac service centres in London promised a 3-5 working day turn around, because they would have to order in a replacement SSD. Which means I’d have to make an appointment with the dreaded Genius Bar since they probably would have the part in stock.

The staff at the Genius Bar are always great, but I HATE the process you have to go through to see them – booking an appointment online. To cut a long story short, I was able to get a walk-in appointment later that day, and because I had AppleCare (which I bought specifically because SSDs are unreliable), the £600 replacement part cost me £0. But it still cost me a day’s productivity (and pay!).

In terms of lost data, not a lot. I lost a Linux VM which I could rebuild in about a day. Source code is on git / svn servers so none. Personal data – some photos of a trip to Portugal but I was able to get lower res copies of most of them from Facebook.

Since then I’ve changed my backup strategy slightly, so as to avoid downtime, by embracing the Mac way of doing things:

  1. No more dual boot – I’m gonna run Windows 8 in VirtualBox when the need arises
  2. Everything is on the one Macintosh HD partition. However, old habits die hard – I still have the content of my old “Data” partition located at /Data on that hard drive, organised how I like it to be and not how OSX wants me to have it organised.
  3. Time Machine + Time Capsule now backs up everything automatically when I get home.
  4. Super Duper backs up and creates a bootable version of my Macintosh HD on an external USB drive. This means that if my SSD dies again, I can boot straight off the USB hard drive and carry on working. At the moment I’m doing this every night, which takes about 20 mins (using the Smart Copy – I purchased a license). But if I think about it, once a week or so should be adequate since my personal files should be getting backed up by Time Machine, and I usually commit / shelve source code every night.

I still feel a bit uneasy about running Windows in a VM, but lately I’ve only been using OSX at work. I’ll see how it goes when I start coding in .NET again in a few weeks.

Upgrade a Macbook with Boot Camp from Windows 7 to Windows 8 Pro

I have a mid-2011 Macbook Air running both OSX Lion and Windows 7 using Boot Camp.

Over the weekend I upgraded it to Windows 8 by doing the download only installation. The process was quite simple and it worked fine. Here’s the steps:

  1. Boot into Windows 7
  2. Go to and click “Buy Windows 8”. Download the installer and start it up.
  3. Pay! The installer will ask for you billing details, credit card / debit card / Paypal details etc. At £25 I thought it was a cheap enough upgrade, especially since I would be going from Windows 7 Home Premium to Windows 8 Pro which means I’d get Remote Desktop etc.
  4. Wait half an hour while the installer downloads the OS.
  5. Once the install starts, it will ask you if you want to
    1. Keep all your programs and your personal info and settings
    2. Keep your personal settings only
    3. Keep nothing. I went for this option as I always like to start fresh.
  6. Now I had a few problems. The install demanded that I have 20Gb free on my C: and I only had about 5 Gb free. I had to stop the installation to free up some disk space. I did this by:
    1. Running Disk Cleanup
    2. Disabled Virtual memory, which shrunk the pagefile.sys from 4Gb to 0Gb.
    3. Disabled hibernate, which removed the 4Gb hiberfile.sys
    4. Deleted c:\Windows\TrustedInstaller folder – but that was a mistake, because then I couldn’t uninstall any programs to free up the necessary space!
    5. Since I was choosing to keep nothing on C: anyway I deleted folders willy-nilly from C:\Program Files and C:\Program Files (x86)
  7. After that I was able to continue the installation which took another 20 mins or so. It rebooted 3 or 4 times, during which  I had to hold down the Mac’s option key at boot and choose the Windows partition.
  8. All done! Windows 8 works fine.

Once it was installed I did a couple of clean-up tasks.

  1. My C: was almost full again, because the install had backed up everything in the C:\Windows.old folder. So I ran Disk Cleanup again and clicked the “Clean up system files” button to remove those.
  2. I no longer had Apple’s Boot Camp drivers installed in Windows, so I had boot into OSX, start the Boot Camp helper and copied the Boot Camp drivers to a USB memory stick. Then rebooted into Windows and installed those drivers. Worth doing so that the Mac’s hotkeys (volume up/down, screen brightness etc) would work.

Running a Win 7 VM on a Macbook Air (2011)

A few days ago I bought a new Macbook Air. I went for the fully pimped one which comes with an i7 and a 256Gb SSD. With the VMware Fusion demo I was able to bring my old laptop over and run it as a VM inside the Mac.

A few notes:

1. VMware’s Migration Assistant wanted to create a VM of my entire laptop, with both C: and D: disks. I didn’t want to bring over the 200Gb D: and the Migration Assistant didn’t have any options to prevent that from happening. So on my old laptop, I installed VMware’s free VMware converter. That had many more options including the option to exclude D:

2. It looks like I don’t need to buy a new Windows license. So far my VM hasn’t phoned home to Microsoft – maybe it will?

3. For networking, although I’m connected on WiFi to my flat’s network on the Mac, the VM sees it as an ethernet connection. Initially I couldn’t connect to the network on the VM because it was complaining that there were no ethernet drivers installed. I had to edit the .vmx file and add a line ethernet0.virtualDEV = “e1000”.

4. Visual Studio is completely red and unusable! I haven’t figured that one out yet.

Update (Dec 2011)

The Visual Studio red problem I had was with VMWare Fusion 3 and Parallels 6, but it seems to be fixed in VMWare Fusion 4 and Parallels 7. Having said that, I don’t use virtualisation and reboot and run Win7 in Boot Camp.