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Friday, February 23, 2007

Review: Apple Airport Extreme

Those who are bored stiffless by computer talk, look away now.

Those of you who aren't interested in the AirPort but who do own Macs, see the second half of this entry.

So, yesterday, I finally picked up my Airport Extreme wireless base station, which has just been released.
As with most Apple products, it's damn sexy (which is why I named it "Aiport Extremely Sexy" when setting it up). A sheek white box, with an apple on. No buttons, no annoying neon lights to keep you awake at night; just the single LED on the front.

Setting it up for use with my MacBook was so easy even my dad could have done it. The installation software walks you through a few screens which require you to enter a couple of passwords to stop the neighbours from fiddling with its settings, using all your bandwidth or stealing your porn essays on Japanese history, and once that's done, flazang, you're connected.

After that, it's simply a matter of plugging your USB printer / external hard drives into its rear end.

Now, I can:
  • Use the internet anywhere in our huge cupboard
  • Listen to my 70GB of music (which for obvious reasons I keep on an external HDD) without having USB cables trailing all over the place. Until now I have been unable to listen to music / radio / podcasts in the Kitchen or the loft - now the sounds just stream magically over the airwaves.
  • Print stuff wirelessly. Once again, no USB cables to plug in. Instead, all the letters on that PDF document go flying through the air in an invisible cloud. Amazing.
There's no notable loss in speed when it comes to the internet either. I clocked 17mb/s on a download this morning.



When it came to configuring it for Windows I did run into a bit of trouble, although I think that this was because I first set it up on a Mac. The thing is, when initially setting it up using a Mac, it will default to channel 13, which computers running Windows XP SP2 cannot detect. Thus, the network wasn't showing up at all in Windows' list of wireless possibilities. The problem is easily solved however: open Airport Utility on your Mac, and on the Base Station tab choose "Manual Setup". Under Summary, where it says "Channel: Automatic", simply select another channel. Anything under 10 will do.

Once the base station has restarted it will appear in Windows' list of available wireless networks.

Disspointments:
  • You can't sync your iPod via the Airport Extreme. If you plug your iPod into the Airport, it will show up on your desktop as a mass storage device. You can access the stuff on it, but it won't play ball with iTunes (it's not a fault as such - it's not designed to do it). Fingers crossed this issue will be addressed in the future with a software / firmware update.
  • Likewise with my digital camera - Image Capture won't recognise it as a camera when it's connected via the Airport (nor is it supposed to)
  • One final thing to note is that the widely publicised advanced speed capabilities of the Airport Extreme, you know, 2.5 times that of the old 802.11g standard (due to its use of the new 802.11n standard), are only available to you if you have a wireless receiver that it 802.11n enabled. My MacBook, being not-quite the latest model, has just missed out there. Not that I'm fussed, I'm happy with the speed I get.
Overall though, I like it a lot, and will finally bring our broadband wars to an end. There's been an unexpected bonus too: whereas in the past it has taken a good five minutes for *Twinkle's* XP laptop to connect to the internet via LAN, now it connects via wireless almost instantaneously, and without the need to enter the bloomin username and password that the Windows Media Centre cable box thing demands.

Hurrah!

______________

Software for Macs

I remember last year, in the month before I bought my first Mac, worrying about the 'fact' that there wasn't that much software out there for the Windows rival.

Five months later I feel just the opposite - how could I work on a PC when there just isn't the software available that I use everyday? I now have programs for the Mac that do everything any of my Windows programs could do, only now they often do them better, and of course, in a far sexier manner.

My recommendations include:
(and I apologise for the lack of links, but I'm sure you can find them)
  • TextExpander - a great shortcut tool
  • Growl - notification service
  • QuickSilver (what did I ever do without it?)
  • Renamer4Mac - does what it says on the box
  • Popcorn - DVD / iPod / PSP burning software
  • Photobooth (part of MacOSX) - We've had a lot of fun with this...
  • The book function in iPhoto (part of MacOSX)
  • Garageband - Podcasts with chapters and photos etc
  • SuperDuper - Super backup software!
  • Stellar Phoenix - recovery software - that works!
  • JEdict for Mac - A fantastic Japanese - English dictionary
  • iCal (part of OSX) - love the way it syncs with my iPod
  • Mac The Ripper - for backing up your DVDs
  • Cyberduck - FTP tool
  • Comic Life - haven't had time to play with this yet, but it looks great!
  • Automator (Part of OSX) - wow, what a tool!
  • Little Snitch - very handy
  • Dreamweaver, Office, Photoshop, all great on the Mac.
  • Newsfire (RSS Reader)
Biggest reccomendation though is to subscribe to MacBreak, MacBreak Weekly, and TWiT. That's where all the hottest tips are!

Joseph

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