This has been an interesting week with software for me. I decided to try a few software apps and had some surprising results.
Parallels vs. VMWare vs. Entourage
I’m a mac user who works in a PC environment. As such I have to learn to work with MS Exchange in the best way possible. I’ve tried Thunderbird with IMAP — but that simply didn’t work since I couldn’t schedule or respond to meetings.
Eventually I went with Parallels so I could use Outlook on my mac. It worked well, not great, but good enough for my purposes. My biggest problem was that somethings just didn’t seem to work well. For example after the computer would wake up from sleep Parallels thought it would be a good idea to reopen the apps that were already running. So windows would have 5 new Outlook processes and 3 new IE processes open at the same time. This can be very annoying.
So this week I decided to try out VMWare Fusion. Everyone I’ve talked to says it’s awesome and so much better than Parallels. I was very optimistic and downloaded the demo and imported the Parallels vhd into it. Unfortunately I found VMWare to be kludgier than Parallels. More specifically:
Problems with VMWare Fusion
- Often times ran slow, or had a significant delay when I tried to access it.
- It doesn’t know I have a dock and when I maximize widows, they expand under it.
- (the kicker) No cross application support. For example, when I click a link in Outlook it opens in the Firefox on Windows. I want it to open in Firefox on the mac side.
Parallels doesn’t have these problems, so I am back to using that.
Except that’s not the end of the story. I also won a copy of Office 2008 for Mac at the Geeks Love Bowling event at SXSW. We didn’t win for the most points, but for consuming the most alcohol; we had to live up to our team name: “The Beer Liberation Front”. (See Pictures).
I got excited that Entourage in Office 2008 might actually be usable. After installing it I was impressed — the UI looked great and the calendar wasn’t pink! (Entourage 2004 was pink) Entourage is very usable but I still fell back to Outlook because I couldn’t totally get used to it. Here are some points:
Problems with Entourage 2008
- Local folders are far down on the left bar, so you have to scroll to get to most of them.
- Not many options to customize.
- Sorting email by “conversation” doesn’t build the message tree like Outlook, so you don’t really know who replied to which message.
- Not as easy to skim through the email list.
- NO WAY to directly import PST files from Outlook (The same company produces both of these products, right?)
- (the kicker) Dragging an email to your local folder COPIES it instead of moving it! How does that make sense?
Overall these are mostly small issues, but the app wasn’t good enough to make me totally switch to it. Maybe someday.
Pandora vs. Last.fm
I’ve been using the Pandora music player for the last 6 months and have found so many great new artists through their music recommendations; I love it. They’ve always had big advertising around the player, and I never minded. They provide a valuable service to me and I think they should get paid for that. The problem is this week their player took a turn to the dark side: It would play a song or two, but refuse the next one until you put focus on the browser window with the player. This is unacceptable! I cannot stop what I’m doing every 5 – 10 minutes to jump to that page just to get another couple songs!
This was enough of a push to send me to try another thing that I’ve been hearing everyone rave about: last.fm. With so many people talking about it, it must be good, right? I signed up, downloaded the software and “scrobbled” (WTF?) my itunes library. Coming from Pandora I expected that by having their program send the titles from my itunes library to my account it would know what I like and give me recommendations on that. No luck. It didn’t tell me what to expect from it, so I decided maybe it was waiting for me to listen to some music first.
I open the player and entered “Pink Floyd” — my favorite band — and pressed play to listen to them and similar artists. Nice so far. I have a rather eclectic music taste so as much as I like Pink Floyd I don’t want to listen to them and similar music all day. In Pandora can setup stations and add a range of artists like Metallica, Ludo, Booker-T and the MGs, RJD2, Moby, Bob Marley, etc. The point is I like my music to switch up ever couple of songs and give me a different sound. Last.fm wont give that to me.
It feels very restrictive. I have to pick an artist or genre and I can’t add anything to it. If I get tired of the music selection I need to start over. The site isn’t helpful either. No real instructions or guidance, they just expect that you get it or are going to take the social approach and search for users like you. I’m sorry; I just want to listen to good music.
For example, take the following screen (notice it tells me the recommendations are a “Sample”):
It says that there aren’t any “real” recommendations for me yet because…why? It read my itunes library, I’ve listened, and scrobbled, a lot of songs. So at what point is it going to recommend something to me? I’ve done everything it has asked me to do. BAD USER EXPERIENCE == FAIL!
The good news is that I’ve found that several projects that have created desktop applications that play music from Pandora and they don’t have the stupid “pause” behavior that is present in the web player. So I’ve downloaded PandoraBoy and can now groove to my stations. In fact as I type this blog post Pandora is playing a list of fantastic selections — I’m very pleased. (at this second it’s playing “Sunday”, by Moby)
So at the end of the week, even though I’m back where I started, I’m happy I tried these products and got a taste for what’s out there. It seems I was using the better apps to begin with. Big Win!