Macworld Expo Wrap-Up

Okay, I’d like to apologize for taking almost a month to comment on what happened at Macworld last month. Every time I’ve tried to sit down and write anything, something else comes up, or I find myself passed out on the couch. Anyway . . . as expected, Apple (AAPL) came out with some really great new stuff. The Intel Macs came out six months early starting with the new iMac. From what I’ve read, these things scream when they’re using software written for the Intel processors inside of them. Even with the transition layer, old PowerPC software runs very well. I really think that once all software has transitioned to run natively on Intel Macs, individuals and businesses will think twice about buying a Windows (or is it Windose) machine. The Macs will look and run too well to pass up.

Apple also introduced the new MacBook Pro which is pretty much the notebook computer I’ve been waiting for all these years. If only I could justify the cost to get one. Hey, if any of you have a suggestion on how to convince my wife and me to get one of these, I’m open to suggestions.

Apple also updated the iLife and iWork packages. I have to tell you, I wouldn’t enjoy working with digital photos and digital movies nearly as much without iPhoto and iMovie at my disposal. Those two programs make it so easy! Then there’s iTunes. I think no comment is necessary about how iTunes has changed the world.

Anyway, that’s my wrap-up of the announcements at Macworld. I can’t wait to see what Steve Jobs has up his sleeve for the next Apple event. Until then . .

Macworld Expo 2006

Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s the time of year when the King of the Reality Distortion Field presides over the Mac universe to let us know what is and should be the next big thing. I always look forward to each Steve Jobs keynote because of the anticipation and buzz it causes. The media has, of course, been all over this year’s Expo. For some reason, I feel like something insanely cool will be introduced tomorrow. There’s bound to be something introduced that will change the way people think about or use their computers. My hope is that there is a mix of hardware and software announcements so I have some new programs to play with on my trusty Power Mac G4. In either case, I will be glued to my Mac news sites to keep up with what’s going on up in San Francisco.

Now, I would like to throw in my two cents about what I’d like to see Apple (AAPL) do tomorrow so here it goes.

Intel-Based Notebooks

Apple needs new notebooks like it needs air. The iBooks and PowerBooks feel slow compared to Windows-based notebooks. It’s time for Apple to release Intel-based notebooks and let a real comparison of Mac OS X and Windows XP commence. For the first time in history, Apple and Microsoft will be playing on the same field, and a real, meaningful comparison of the two operating systems can be performed. My bet is that OS X will blow the socks off of Windows XP, but only time will tell.

What is this iWeb thing?

I have seen a few rumors referencing some new web page creation tool from Apple. My hope is that Apple took a page from the Microsoft playbook and just bought RapidWeaver from the guys at Real Mac Software. RapidWeaver is one of the best programs I’ve ever used, and as far as I’m concerned, it is already an iApp. It would fit seamlessly with the rest of the iLife suite of applications and would make .Mac even more valuable.

Now, if I could have everything I wanted in a web development program, I would have RapidWeaver with the ability to create PHP/MySQL applications automatically. It would be great if I didn’t have HTML pages and CSS files spread out in directories for each photo album. RapidWeaver could create the PHP-based pages and create a MySQL database to store the data for each of the albums. To make the application completely easy to use, they would need to find some way to make it insanely easy to upload the web site and database to .Mac or other hosting service that supports PHP. I have no doubt that the guys at Apple and Real Mac Software could pull off something like this.

So that’s about it for now. We’ll all know more tomorrow morning.

New Updates to My Website

Hi everybody! I have been working on the website today, and there are several updates that I think you’ll like. There are some new videos of Kyah’s choir concert as well as new Flash slideshows for all of the photo albums. I have also created a podcast to share some old recordings from bands I’ve played with over the years as well as new content that the kids create. You can subscribe to the podcast using a program like iTunes or other podcast-enabled program. The address for the feed is http://www.timprobst.com/podcast/files/timprobstspodcast.rss. I hope you enjoy the new content, and definitely let me know if you have any comments.

New Albums

There are a couple new albums by two of my favorite artists that I have been listening to a lot lately.

The John Mayer Trio just came out with Try! which is a live album from their current tour. The band is incredible, and it’s great to hear John Mayer really playing the guitar. I saw him play at the House of Blues in Chicago before he got really big. He played several songs without the band, and he was able to show off his chops. He is such a great guitar player, and I am glad he’s getting back to what he does best.

I’ve also been listening to Trey Anastasio’s new album, Shine. It’s a great rock album with a varied set of songs. Once again, Trey has surrounded himself with excellent musicians that make this album a lot of fun to listen to. I saw Trey with Phish back in 1995, but I’ve never had a chance to see him live with his current band. Judging by the two live tracks included with the iTunes version of the album, it sounds like Trey and his band put on a great show.

Decisions, Decisions

I have been a closet developer for several years now. At my previous job, I spent a lot of time developing document automation solutions using Microsoft Word and Visual Basic for Applications. Those solutions used data from several internal systems to create completely automated, data-driven documents. I had a lot of fun working on those projects, and hopefully, I’ll get an opportunity to use those skills again some day.

Lately, I have been struggling with deciding which direction I should go in pursuing new web development skills. On one side, there’s PHP and MySQL. They’re free, hosting plans are relatively inexpensive, and they’re cross-platform so I can use my Mac or Windows PC to develop. On the other side, there’s ASP.NET. Microsoft is providing Visual Web Developer and SQL Server 2005 Express at no cost for a year, hosting plans are slightly more expensive, and I would be limited to using my Windows PC to develop.

I am currently leaning towards ASP.NET because of my previous experience using Visual Basic. Visual Web Developer provides a familiar environment, and it makes it very easy to connect to data sources. Microsoft has also come a long way in supporting XHTML and CSS standards with this release.

I’m still torn every time I sit down at my Mac, though, because I do prefer Mac OS X to Windows XP, but which technology will provide the most opportunities in the long run? In either case, I have a lot to learn. Decisions, decisions . .

Geographically Disconnected Team Collaboration

In my professional and educational experiences, I have worked with teams that have been separated by great distances and time zones. In each case, the teams used tools to facilitate communication and collaboration among the team members. Following are descriptions of the tools used by each team.

Large US Bank/UCC Vender Interface Project

When a large US bank and its UCC vender collaborated to create an interface between the bank’s origination and servicing system and the vender’s web-based system, members of the project team were located in California, Texas, southern Illinois, and Chicago. The project manager for the vender had used a product from Groove Networks called Groove Virtual Office, and he suggested that we use the product for our project. Groove Virtual Office provided all of the tools necessary to function effectively as a team from many different locations. All team members had access to all project documents, project plans, and online communications tools they needed. Weekly meetings would be held online or via conference call. All team members were signed on to Groove during the conference calls so instant access to documents was available. Groove was a very effective tool for our project team throughout the duration of the project. When the team completed the project, it was very easy to archive all documents and notes because they were stored in one place.

Groove Virtual Office Tools

  • Document Repository
  • Offline Access to Documents
  • Project Plan
  • Instant Messaging
  • Visibility of Team Members Status (online/offline)
  • Microsoft Office Integration

Large US Online University Learning Teams

One of the most useful and fulfilling parts of a large US online university’s approach to education is the idea of the learning team. In each class, instructors group students together into learning teams. In addition to individual work, there is a team assignment due each week. At the end of the class, these weekly assignments culminate in a complete term paper for the team. The most important lesson I learned by working with the teams was learning how to work with individuals in different physical locations using nothing but online tools. The university supplied a newsgroup setting for the teams to store and share messages and documents. Students also could use any instant messaging tool and e-mail to communicate. The teams I worked with all used the newsgroup extensively to communicate. They also used instant messaging to have real time meetings. The most geographically diverse team I worked with had a user in India, another user in South Korea, a user in New Jersey, another user in California, and me in Chicago. This team used the newsgroup setting almost exclusively due to the difference in time zones. Even with the great distances between team members, the team came together and functioned effectively creating a product that earned an A grade. The combination of the newsgroup, e-mail, and instant messaging provided an environment that allowed the learning teams to be successful.

Learning Team Tools

  • Newsgroup (accessed through MS Outlook Express)
  • E-mail (accessed via the web or MS Outlook Express)
  • Instant Messaging (MSN Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Instant Messenger)

Summary and Conclusions

While each approach to online collaboration discussed above provided an environment that allowed the teams to succeed, they each had shortcomings that prevented them from being the perfect solution (although Groove Virtual Office comes very close). Based on my experiences with working with teams in an online environment, teams need the following tools to be effective and successful:

  • Common Document Repository
    • Check-In/Check-Out Functionality to Avoid Duplicated or Wasted Work
    • Online/Offline Access to Documents
    • Real-Time Synchronization While Online
  • Common Message Repository to Post and Archive Messages (questions/comments/notes)
  • Instant Messaging with Conversation Archiving
  • Visibility of Team Members Status (online/offline)
  • Microsoft Office Integration

Following are additional tools that may also be useful:

With these tools in place, a team can collaborate effectively and successfully in an online environment. All team members have access to the same documents and information at all times, and they can also communicate in real time with the ability to save the conversations for later use.