Dear Apple: Some Java Love, Please?

I love your machines. Truly, I do. Back in 1988 I bought a toaster-model Mac SE, with one megabyte of RAM, and I loved it. It only had a nine inch, black-and-white screen, and I loved it. For various reasons, I sort of lost the love for a while, until 2006. I acquired an iBook G4 in a hardware trade with a friend and I quickly became hooked on the sweet goodness that is OSX. That was in August, 2006. Two months later I bought a Mac Pro, which I love so much I sometimes feel the need to kiss it goodnight.

But there’s one thing about the Mac that bothers me: lousy Java support. Sun handles JDK releases for Windows and Sun machines and every Linux system on the planet. Yet, for some inscrutable reason, you have decided to handle Java for OSX yourself. And, not to be rude, but I just have to say that you suck at maintaining Java for the Mac!!! Let me ‘splain.

Sun released the first version of Java 6 for Windows, Linux and Solaris in December 2006. Two days ago, Sun released the tenth update for Java 6, again for Windows, Linux and Solaris. On September 24, 2008, you guys released Java 6_07, which was nice to finally get it, but it’s only for Leopard systems and it’s only for 64bit machines. My Mac Pro is 64bit and Leopard, but my iBook is 32bit and can’t run Leopard. And what about the tons of other developers out there who don’t meet these requirements? I can’t think of a good reason you have restricted Java 6 in this way, but I can think of a few bad reasons. Probably the easiest to come up with is that you’re trying to force Java developers to buy more expensive Apple machines.

What’s really funny about the crappy state of Java on the Mac is comments from Sir Steve himself, several years ago. I was at JavaOne in 2000. Sir Steve was the Mystery Date™ for the keynote speech on Day One of the conference. His Steveness trots on stage, clad all in black, and proclaims that he was going to make the Mac the ultimate platform for Java developers. Apple would be bundling Java 2 SE with OSX. And the crowd went wild. And he did make the Mac a great Java development platform. For a while. I can’t tell you how many conferences I went to after that, Java conferences, where the majority of developers were toting Mac laptops around. 

But then you started falling behind with the releases. And then you started restricting which of your users were worthy of getting updates. What gives, Apple? If Sun can release timely versions of Java that run on a ton of disparate systems, why can’t you release timely versions that run across your own hardware family? It’s absurd that you are only supporting 64bit Leopard system for the latest versions of Java, and even then you make us wait forever. 

So, how can we fix this? I think you should go back to Sun and say something like,

I’m sorry, Sun. We like to meticulously control everything, but in this case, that desire has caused us to hose down our customers. They’re not happy, and we can’t figure out a good way to appease them. Please, Sun, would you take over maintenance of the JDK/JRE for OSX? We’d really appreciate it.

Or something like that. Something needs to happen soon. Although the lastest version sounds like just another update to Java6, there are actually lots of new features that are going to really improve Java. Except those of us on the Mac have to wait for some unknown amount of time before you guys release your own version. And if we’re not 64bit Leopard, we’re screwed.

Please, Apple, help us out with some timely Java love, OK?

Sincerely,

Joey Gibson

My First Impressions of iTunes 8 “Genius”

After Apple announced iTunes 8 yesterday, I downloaded and installed it, eager to see the new “Genius” feature. This feature had been rumored to be similar to Pandora, the wonderful service that finds you more music based on what you already like and don’t like. In actuality, Genius has two parts. The first is the “Genius Sidebar” which shows you songs from the iTunes store that “match” or in some way go with the songs currently selected in your library. The second part generates playlists based on a song selection. You select a song, click the Genius button, and it generates a playlist of songs from your music library.

Since I have such varied tastes in music, I decided to give the sidebar a whirl. I selected “Rock This Town” by Stray Cats and checked my results. Expecting to see other rockabilly bands, I was a bit surprised to see the top three results:

  1. The Romantics: What I Like About You
  2. Kiss: Strutter
  3. Mötley Crüe: Shout At the Devil

I guess they went with 80’s bands instead. The rest of the list included Billy Idol, Jane’s Addiction, Cheap Trick, and others whose heyday was in the 80’s.

I then selected “You and Me and Rainbows” by The Tear Garden. I was shocked to see the top recommendation was a song by Jessica Simpson, but then I saw the text at the top saying that they couldn’t find anything based on that song, but here’s the list of top songs at the iTunes store right now. Reassured that the Genius was not a moron, I carried on.

I then selected “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Genius did a good job with this one. 

  1. Jimmy Dean: Big Bad John
  2. Marty Robbins: El Paso
  3. Hank Williams: Your Cheatin’ Heart
  4. Roger Miller: Dang Me

In this case, not only did it match the generation, but it also matched the genre and feel of the song pretty well.

I then tried several Tom Waits songs. Most of the results involved Neil Young, Tom Petty and Nick Cave, none of whom I like. Based strictly on which songs I was picking, I don’t think the matches were very good. You could argue that the bands gained fame at roughly the same time, but Tom Waits’ style(s) don’t really match with the recommendations, in my opinion.

Pressing on, I selected “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” by Tony Bennett. The top recommendations were:

  1. Fred Astaire: Puttin’ On The Ritz
  2. Frank Sinatra: Nice ‘n’ Easy
  3. Bobby Darin: Call Me Irresponsible
  4. Ella Fitzgerald: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Good selections. What I like most about the first one is that this Tony Bennett album was a collection of songs made famous by Fred Astaire. Thus, having an Astaire song as the first hit seems very genius-like.

Next, I selected “Quicksand” by Abdel Wright, a Jamaican singer who does mostly folksy, protesty songs. I don’t understand the results from Genius, which included Maia Sharp, North Mississippi Allstars and Kyle Riabko. The Duhks were also included with a cover of Sting’s “Love Is the Seventh Wave.” None of these songs/artists share a style with Wright, and I didn’t detect any degree of protest in the thirty second clips. Curious.

Finally, I tried two songs by Afro Celt Sound System: “Deep Channel” and “Lovers of Light.” The results for “Deep Channel” were mostly Indian-influenced groups, which don’t really fit, but weren’t awful. The results for “Lovers of Light” were much better, including a song by Baka Beyond, which was very similar musically. These results rather impressed me, as this band bends and blends styles.

So far it’s hit or miss with Genius. I haven’t used the playlist-generation feature much yet. At this moment I’m listening to a Genius-generated playlist based on “Deep Channel” and I’m not too sure about these results. 

Click to see larger image

Some of the results seem OK, but not all. I can only assume that as more people use Genius, the results will get better. For now, if you’re looking for recommendations, you should probably rely more on Pandora than Genius.

Apple Still Working on MobileMe

I just received an email from Apple regarding MobileMe. Here’s what it said

We have already made many improvements to MobileMe, but we still have many more to make. To recognize our users’ patience, we are giving every MobileMe subscriber as of today a free 60 day extension. This is in addition to the one month extension most subscribers have already received. We are working very hard to make MobileMe a great service we can all be proud of. We know that MobileMe’s launch has not been our finest hour, and we truly appreciate your patience as we turn this around.

It’s good to see the bit in there about this launch not being their “finest hour.” That shows that they recognize how bad this rollout has been. But they better solve it soon or they’ll be giving everyone a free year. We’re already up to 90 days of free service.

I really like MobileMe, though the only part of it that I really use is syncing bookmarks and stuff between my Mac Pro and iBook. I tried to setup the Outlook integration on my Windows laptop the other day, but it didn’t seem to actually do anything. I guess that’s part of what’s broken with the service, maybe.