Do You Think iTunes is Bloated?

One of the common tropes I see on the internet about iTunes is the fact that the program is “bloated.” A lot of people who know very little about programming or computers in general repeat this in forums and on blogs, and I’ve always wondered why people say this. Granted, iTunes has a lot of features, but if you don’t use certain features, why would they bother you? For example, Microsoft Word has lots of features, one of which is a set of reviewing features for tracking changes, comparing documents, and more. This is something I often use professionally, but most people don’t even know about it. Does this make Word bloated?

I’m planning to write an article about this, and I’m looking for input. If you’re one of those people who accuses iTunes of bloat, I’d appreciate your posting a comment here to tell me exactly what you mean. Do you mean the size of the program? (This is 2010, so it’s not about hard disk space or even the size of an installer or updater that you have to download.) Do you mean that it has features you don’t need? (Well, what about the people who do need and use those features?)

I’ve looked at this article, and I find it a bit surprising. Sure, iTunes installs QuickTime; it needs QuickTime to play back media files. It installs Bonjour for iTunes library sharing. Mobile Device Support is for, well, mobile devices. And Apple Software Update is to make updates easier. Is 200 MB really that big an issue in the days of terabyte hard disks?

I’m especially interested in hearing from anyone who understands Windows internals and any memory issues that may exist. I’ve read a lot of people who complain about memory usage on Windows, and, while I run Windows using VMware Fusion, I only use iTunes there for test purposes, and have never seen problems. I’m wondering how much any memory issues could be caused by iTunes, and how much they are simply due to people using old PCs without much memory, or old versions of Windows. (To be honest, the “iTunes bloat” meme seems to come only from Windows users…)

In any case, feel free to comment below. Pass this on to others, as I’m really trying to get to the bottom of this question. Thanks!

Some Thoughts on the Future of Newspapers

I’ve just finished watching The Wire for the second time. For those unfamiliar with the TV series, the fifth and final season features two concurrent plot threads: one has to do with the police and their investigations, and the other has to do with the press, notably the Baltimore Sun, the daily newspaper in the city where the series is set.

Throughout the season, you see the difficulties that the Sun faces; even though this was made several years ago, and the Internet is not mentioned, it is clear that times are tough for that venerable daily paper. The Sun has a storied history, counting one of America’s most famous journalists, H. L. Mencken, as one of its alumni. But in season 5 of The Wire, you see the problems faced by today’s newspapers, and how they cope.

This made me think about how newspapers have changed in my lifetime, and how they may change in the near future. At first, I found the newspaper to be a sacred object. In 6th grade – and this goes back about 40 years – I recall our English teacher showing us how to fold the New York Times to be able to read it efficiently. As with any broadsheet, the right fold is essential to be able to read the paper in the subway or on a bus.

Over the years, as an adult, I bought papers most days, and skimmed the news. At a time when I watched little television, the newspaper was my only source of information about what was going on in the world. When I moved to France 25 years ago, I started buying the International Herald Tribune, and over the years, subscribed to it from time to time. This slim broadsheet, now owned by the New York Times, was a condensed version of the world’s news, and it showed up in my mailbox six days a week. Unfortunately, French newspapers are quite expensive, which has always prevented me from buying them regularly, but with the Internet, and my RSS reader, I keep up with what goes on in the world, much more than when I was reading a paper.

But now that’s all about to change. With Apple most likely releasing a tablet computer, I’m looking forward to a shift in the way we get news. Instead of reading unrelated articles with an RSS reader, we will be able to buy “newspapers” digitally, and read them on the Apple tablet. What seems likely is that we’ll be able to subscribe to a paper – local or national – and get it daily, via iTunes, on the device. This will renew people’s interest in newspapers.

Some people think this won’t work. They think that no one will pay for news when it’s free; or they’ll just download pirated copies of newspapers for their tables. I truly think that the Apple tablet will save newspapers, for two reasons. First, why go to the trouble of rounding up the news you want to read when you can get it all in one place? There are a few trusted newspapers – the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Le Monde – any of which will give you a good overview of the news. Second, why pirate these papers when they’ll cost you less than a dollar a day? It’s too much trouble to spend the time necessary to find and download the files.

Journalism has power, and we can’t afford to lose it. From Henry Mencken (I recently read a biography of him), who, coincidentally, worked at the Baltimore Sun, to Woodward and Bernstein, by way of Albert Camus, journalists have kept people honest and kept us informed for a long time. Without good journalists, we would be a much poorer society.

I think the Apple tablet will change the way we get daily, weekly and monthly news. Because it will not only delivery daily papers, but also weekly and monthly magazines. This new way of getting news will be a paradigm shift for publishing, and will have a huge effect on the availability of free content. While you’ll still be able to get some news for free, the good news – that which is sanctioned by a respected newspaper or magazine, or the analysis that depends on the best journalist – will no longer be free, but it won’t be expensive enough to make you want to seek out free.

I hope that with Apple’s (still only rumored) tablet we’ll see a resurgence of publishing, because the news is too important to lose to free. What’s happened in recent years, because of the Internet, has endangered all of us, because we need the press to serve as a check and balance for government, corporations, and our own stupidity. Let’s hope that Apple’s tablet will pave the way for a renaissance of journalism.

What is WebKitPluginHost?

I’ve noticed a process taking up a fair amount of memory on my Mac mini, running Snow Leopard: WebKitPluginHost. WebKit is Apple’s HTML rendering engine; it’s used by Safari, Mail (for HTML messages), and many other programs that display HTML pages. But I never noticed it before as a process. In addition, it’s currently taking up more that 200 MB of real memory. Does anyone know what this is?

Follow-up: interestingly, though not surprisingly, the process disappeared after quitting Safari. I think I figured out where it came from: I was uploading a file to my MobileMe iDisk when I noticed it. Perhaps that “PluginHost” is something that is needed by the special window that displays when you make an upload. I’m surprised that it used so much RAM, but I was uploading a file that was around 190 MB. Maybe it takes up RAM corresponding to the size of the upload… More testing will be needed.

Follow-up: it’s a process used when certain plugins are called by WebKit, including the Flash Player plugin.

One Month with a Mac mini

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ll have noticed my recent articles about downgrading from a Mac Pro to a Mac mini, my first impressions about the Mac mini, and my first week with the Mac mini. So now, one month after getting the Mac mini, it’s time to sum up my experiences, and, perhaps, explain why this is probably the best Mac your money can buy.

I started writing this article with the best of intentions, but I realized, after I wrote the first paragraph that there’s not much I can add to my one-week review. The switch has been, for the most part, seamless. I miss my fast CD drive, for ripping music (though I’ve only bought one box set – 14 CDs of Schubert piano music – since I got the mini). The graphics card is visibly inferior: the display “stutters” a bit at certain times, such as invoking Exposé, Dashboard, or viewing my four spaces. However, given the work I do, that’s just an aesthetic weakness. I’ve hooked up two external hard disks, so the actual capacity of the internal disk is not an issue (and the FireWire 800 transfer is fast enough). Having less RAM only affects when I run Windows, which is not very often.

So, to sum up, I wonder why I didn’t get a Mac mini before? I could have saved half the cost of the Mac Pro (though I did get a good price for it selling it used), and had a computer that takes up less space, makes less noise, and gives off less heat. If Apple keeps the Mac mini up to date, this will be my Mac of choice in the future, both for me and, probably, my wife who currently has a 2+ year old white 17″ iMac, and will need an upgrade soon. I’d strongly recommend the Mac mini to all Mac users: unless you have special needs (especially concerning RAM), it’ll probably do everything you want.

A Week with a Mac mini

In previous articles, I have written about my decision to “downgrade” from a Mac Pro to a Mac mini, and about my first impressions using the Mac mini. It’s now been one week since I got the Mac mini, so it’s time to write a report about how it works “in the field”, in normal usage.

Aside from the raw processor power, one of the biggest differences between the two computers is the amount of RAM they contain. I had put 8 GB into the Mac Pro – it came with, I think, 2 GB, but over time I increased it to 4 GB, then, at the end of last year, to 8 GB – mostly so I’m comfortable when using Windows (which I don’t use often, and not for work). With 4 GB in the Mac mini, I find little difference in the ability to open a large number of applications (large, for me, being around a dozen). They all respond well, and switching between applications is immediate.

As I’ve said before, my work does not involve any processor-intensive applications; as a writer, I basically write, using productivity tools (Word, Pages, Acrobat, BBEdit, Numbers, etc.). All of these applications function fine with the Mac mini, and I see no difference at all in their speed or response. If I were to do a massive find/replace operation, perhaps, I might see a difference, but I’m convinced that it would be minimal. In my work this week – a pretty normal week, using all the applications I use in my work – I didn’t see any differences in using applications, with the exception that some applications, notably Microsoft Word, take a bit longer to open, perhaps two or three seconds more.

One clear difference, however, is in the graphics response. There is a bit of a stutter when using Exposé, when invoking Dashboard, or when I display all my spaces. The graphics card is much weaker than that of the Mac Pro, and it is not dedicated video RAM: the RAM is shared between normal memory and the graphics card. While this is visible, it is not a major problem; it has never occured when working in any applications, and since I’m not a gamer, I won’t have any issues with applications that need fast graphics response. I’m running a 24″ monitor, which may be one factor; I wonder how the Mac mini would work with a 30″ monitor?

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