The Tech Roundup

It’s a big week in tech for me. Asus and Acer have just announced their new ultrabooks, Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) is due any day now and, perhaps, most importantly Literature & Latte  have (sort of) announced a release date for Scrivener for Windows.

First up, the ultrabooks. I have long lusted after some version of the MacBook Air. It seems to be just about the perfect size for a travelling laptop to me. Somehow I can never quite make myself pull the trigger though. £1000 is a lot of money and to tell the truth I have been less than impressed with what I have seen of Lion. Heretical as it sounds to many people I actually prefer both Windows 7 and Ubuntu.  I have been living in hope that Intel’s Ultrabook initiative would produce something just as light and beautiful as a MacBook Air only significantly cheaper. The first fruits are becoming visible now.

Asus revealed their new Zenbook line yesterday, the UX 21 and 31. They look lovely. They are about as light and about as thin as a MBA and they are specced a little bit higher. The price looks too high to compete with Apple in this space though. Asus are making the same mistake as many tablet makers when competing with the iPad. They look to be charging the same price with specifications a bit higher. What has happened in the tablet field shows this is not the way to compete with Apple. One reason people buy Apple is BECAUSE it is expensive. They are making a fashion statement, purchasing a luxury brand. They are not buying specifications—they are buying a logo. No one is going to buy an Asus just because it’s expensive, no matter what specs it has and sorry, Asus, you just don’t have the cache that Apple has as a brand. I would not let the fact that the machine is an Asus stop me from buying it, but the current price will.

The Acer S3 is a more interesting take on the Ultrabook. It uses a hybrid SSD/ Hard drive system. The OS is stored on the SSD for very fast booting. Data is stored on the hard drive. The main advantage here is that hard drives are a lot bigger than an SSD and you can store an awful lot more data on them. It also lets Acer keep the costs down. The S3 comes in at $899, roughly $400 dollars less than the equivalent Mac. This is a large price advantage and I think it shows that someone at Acer at least has a grasp of the economic and brand realities. In terms of the tech, they are not simply copying what Apple has done either. The equivalent MBA is a higher spec machine but quite honestly I don’t care. The Acer has the things I want, light weight, decent battery life and fast boot times. Right now, it is the Ultrabook I would buy although Toshiba’s upcoming Z830 also looks good. I confess I will probably wait until next year before diving in to the Ultrabook market though. By then, production will have ramped up and costs will have dropped significantly. The new Ivy Bridge processors will make for some interesting things as well. For the moment though I am sticking with my fast fading MacBook Pro and my trust Acer Travelmate.

There’s not a lot I can say about the new Ubuntu since it’s not out yet. I will be downloading the new release when it becomes available and sticking it on a virtual machine to take for a test drive. I was not too thrilled by 11.04. I could see what they were doing with the new Unity interface but I was not sure it worked. By all accounts the latest version is a lot more polished which is exactly what you would expect. I doubt 11.10 will convince me to move from my trusty 10.10 but I suspect it will take us a long way down the road to a very impressive Long Term Service release in 12.04. This might be the one that sells me on Unity.  (For the record, I am sitting in a café writing this on an Asus eeePC 1001 netbook, running  Ubuntu 10.10. It works a treat).

And lastly I was delighted to note while reading the Literature and Latte forums last night that the official release of Scrivener for Windows is 31st October, just in time for National Novel Writing Month. As I never tire of repeating, Scrivener is the single best piece of software ever devised for the working writer and the main reason I am still on a Mac at this moment. I tried the earlier betas of Scrivener for Windows but they just were not stable enough for me to feel comfortable working on. I’ve recently been trying version .035 and it’s been solid. There have been one or two tiny glitches switching between Mac and PC but these have been trivial—things like the text in a section being selected when I open it. The latest version looks great and most importantly it behaves like Scrivener should. I’ll be giving this a try on Windows as soon as it is released and most probably taking it for a run on Linux as well. I’ll do a review at some point as well.

Anyway, I am off to work now. I’ll be back on Friday with more about Elves.

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Comments

  1. Simon (squiggle) says:

    yeah, the windows beta of scrivener does seem pretty solid – I’ve been using it for a couple of months now and haven’t had any crashes. definitely living up the billing you gave it, and its made managing my novel so much easier! thanks for that recommendation!

    • Hey Simon. I had a bunch of problems with the earliest versions of Scrivener for Windows, to the point where I stopped using it, but the latest versions seem solid and I am confident they will be absolutely so when the final version is released. The people at L&L seem pretty diligent about this stuff.

  2. Agree that Scrivener for Windows’ most recent beta seems solid. I can’t wait for the Hallowe’en release. This is the single best piece of software for writers that I have every used. Goodbye MS Word, you temperamental sod. 😉

    • Heh Steve, I actually kind of like Word 2010, but I prefer to work in Scrivener for as long as possible. At some point all of my manuscripts end up in Word anyway because of editing requirements. I am definitely psyched for the Oct 31st release!

    • Hey Steve, I actually like Word 2010, I just prefer Scrivener for working in and try to stay in it for as long as possible. I always end up in Word anyway because of editing requirements. I am psyched for the October 31st Windows release now!

  3. Michael Mooney says:

    Must admit, Scrivener is a thing of beauty.
    I think you’ve fallen into error when talking about the MacBook Pro, though – if I read you rightly, something that matches the specifications of the MBA at the same price is too expensive, and something that is cheaper than the MBA has lower specs. That does follow my feeling that if you want to match Apple specs, you’ll have to pay Apple prices. It may well be that something cheaper will be a better match for what you need (the SSD/HD hybrid approach sounds good), but I do dispute (gently) that the higher Apple prices buy you a badge, or a brand (of course, you know that I buy Moleskine notebooks, so I’m already on shakey ground).
    When Toyota wanted to expand into the Mercedes and BMW market, they realised that no one would buy a Toyota for £35k (this was a while ago) and that they couldn’t build to Merc or BMW standards for less than Merc and BMW prices. The (frankly brilliant) idea they came up with was to create their own luxury brand, Lexus, and sell that into the German luxury car market – which took something like five years to work, but it has worked.
    I think Sony had something like the same cachet as Apple, at similar prices, as a consumer brand. I’d love to see them, or someone else, take Apple on again.
    In the meantime, I think the MBA is the best machine I’ve ever owned – for what I want. Which, I guess, is the only rational basis for buying anything.

    • The Asus exceeds the specs of the Air at the same price. My point is that people don’t buy Apple because of the specs ( because until recently they would have had to be mad to do so :)) You are quite right about the branding although I doubt Asus are in a position to do a Toyota. If I were in charge of Asus, I would aim to slaughter Apple on the specs and charge less as well. Anything else is fighting the war on Apple’s turf. Right now I am not entirely sure the strategy I advocate is possible since the MBA looks like it’s quite decently priced for what it is. As production ramps up on SSDs it will become possible. Who knows, maybe Asus plan to do this and are just looking to make some money out of the early adopters.

      • Michael Mooney says:

        The SSD is the thing that almost held me back from the MBA. I did need to buy a new machine (my old one is in an evidence locker somewhere, still) but didn’t fancy that tiny, tiny storage device. In the end I decided that I could live with it, given a few developments.
        One of them is the probability that new, larger, cheaper SSD’s will come along, and upgrades will be possible. Another is that more and more of my storage will be in the Cloud. If my music, videos and photos end up there, then I don’t need a lot of space on the device itself. And the last, I guess, is greater ease of networking. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be able to stream content from my 1Tb back up disk through the old MacBoook when it comes back to my MBA, iPhone or iPad.
        Well worth giving my genetic code to Apple for…

        • I don’t really need all that much space on the MBP because it is my work machine but I take your point. You are definitely right about bigger SSDs being on the way. Personally I think that within 5 years pretty much all laptops will look like the MBA does now, very thin, very light with SSDs and day long battery life. It’s the logical way for this tech to go. The cloud is definitely a game changer as well. Dropbox has changed the way I work and the Kindle has changed the way I buy books. In the not too distant future I imagine it is going to do the same for comics, movies and music.

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