Thursday, November 22, 2007

Microsoft Office for mac:2008

For those who have to work in a mixed environment or share complex Office files frequently, this next release of Microsoft's Office for Mac (January 2008) is hotly anticipated.

When Apple switched to Intel processors in 2006, Microsoft had a huge task to change their software code so that it would run natively on the Intel-based Macs. Instead of upgrading the current version, Microsoft decided to focus on the next version. The current version of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) works on the new generation of Macs using Apple's built-in emulation technology called Rosetta.

As a user, you never see this emulator but you can feel it at times with sluggish responses. And if you only have 1 gig of RAM, you may notice other programs running sluggishly as well. In fact, I have noticed that PowerPoint runs at turtle-speed when it has graphics inserted from the PC version. So slow in fact that many times, I run the PC version of PowerPoint in a virtual machine which is so much faster.

However, the next version of Office for the Mac promises to run natively on Intel-based Macs which should mean increased speed and performance.

But it also promises better compatibility with PC originated files. In most cases, the current version works with the majority of documents just fine but once in a while, some formatting or graphic would trip the mac version up. For instance, if someone put a 4 color picture (CMYK) instead of a 3 color (RGB) picture, the image would show up as a black box on the Mac.

PowerPoint is the worst transgressor cross-platform as Flash and Windows Media files would work in the PC version but would not work on the Mac. And then if you inserted a QuickTime video into a Mac version of PowerPoint, a PC user couldn't play it. Managing cross-platform issues sometimes posed an ugly challenge and as a minority Mac user, I hated to ask my PC associates to make compromises. My short term solution was to run the PC version of PowerPoint inside a virtual machine running Windows which ran faster. Go figure.

So we'll see what the next version holds. Microsoft said that cross platform compatibility was a top priority during development of this new version coming in January. Time will tell but from what I've seen so far, it is a must-have upgrade for someone like me that spends most of the day using Office.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Death by PowerPoint

I use PowerPoint all the time at work but when I'm in ministry and I see PowerPoint, it usually is a boredom enhancing tool.

The reasons?

Most speakers use PowerPoint as a way to keep their thoughts organized. And they want to share those notes with the rest of the world.

Uggh. Just talk to me.

Also, people put way too much text on the screens, use low grade graphics, and cheesy looking animations to get people's attention.

The best communicators today use very little PowerPoint at all except for putting up Scripture, showing a video clip or photo, or using it as a visual backdrop.

And if you use PowerPoint, or my personal preference for ministry, Keynote, using it in that fashion makes your points much more, well, poignant.

When you have to prepare a message, ask yourself this question "If there was one thing you wanted your audience to walk away with and apply to their life, what would it be?"

When you have that question answered, focus on that. Use PowerPoint or Keynote as a visual backdrop or to highlight one key thought or asking one question that you're spending time on answering.

Everything else you might talk about, although interesting and likely very important, may be a distraction from your message. Save it for another time.

For the really bold who want to dramatically improve their delivery, I highly suggest that you read "Communicating for a Change" by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones. 

Still in doubt? Go to Northpoint Church and watch or listen to Andy Stanley speak. He is one of the most gripping speakers I know and he doesn't use PowerPoint.

PS. Some of you may read this and question my Simple Church presentation in another post. The difference is that in a sermon, message, devotional, you're goal is life change, not information transmission. In my Simple Church presentation, the goal was information transmission.

iChat Screen Sharing

Last week I was able to check out iChat's new Screen Saving feature that allows me to see and even take over someone else's desktop (who also must be running Leopard).

This was really helpful in troubleshooting an error in seconds and explaining it while it was being fixed, instead of trying to explain everything over the phone.

One cool feature is that it scales the other person's screen so it fits nicely on your own. This allowed me to work with a 24" iMac on my 15.4" MacBook Pro. 

There are just a couple of caveats - you have to have good upload speeds for smooth operation otherwise the response can be a little choppy. Setting your background to black instead of your favorite abtract rainbow spectrum might help with that too.

The other caveat is that if you're controlling someone else's screen, the moment he or she touches the mouse, you lose control until the mouse on the other end stops moving. So tell the person to sit on their hands or pick up that Rubik's cube that they have never solved.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Simple Church

video

I have become a big fan of the Simple Church concept because it helps churches to focus on the process of discipleship and not on creating or maintaining programs as a shotgun, hope something happens approach to discipleship. I'm not talking about the house church movement but what Rainer and Geiger talked about in their book, The Simple Church. You can read much of the book online here

What I did is use Keynote to create a QuickTime that you can click through to watch a presentation. The version on this website converted to flash so it doesn't allow for manual control that the QuickTime version does. There is no audio but it was all done without any special tools, plug-ins, etc. Just goes to show some of the cool things you can do with Apple technologies to get your point across in a high quality way.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Spaces in church

No, this isn't about running out of room for your Sunday School classes, this is about a new feature in Mac OS X Leopard (10.5). 

Spaces is like having 2, 4, 6, however many desktops. I didn't think much of it when I saw the previews but after using it, it really is a productivity improver.

Unless you have a really big monitor, Spaces can really help you to manage all those open windows that you like to have but not sure what to do with.

Imagine that on one screen you can be running your email program, another you can be running iTunes listening to music or the latest podcast on accelerating snail growth, and on the third screen, you have your church management program and browser open.

With a simple key combination, you can switch to these various screens to maintain a clean, uncluttered look.

Sure, you can use Expose to navigate your application windows but if you have more than four or five open, even that can get unwieldy, especially on a laptop monitor.

Spaces is like Expose on steroids - now you're seeing desktops in scaled windows, not just applications. 

Now before you go bragging to everyone, having multiple desktops has been around for a while, Apple's made it accessible, usable, and intuitive.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

How Leopard (OS X 10.5) Works For Your Church

Apple's shiny new operating system, Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) has a bunch of new tools that a small church office can use to work in ways that the Windows world can only dream about.

Sharing documents
Okay, you can email back and forth, and then schedule a meeting to go over the latest board presentation or you can start a real time video messaging session using iChat and click to share your presentation or document and go over each page in real time. You can do this in between your offices or between states without having to pay for expensive web presentation sessions or trying to do it all by phone. All you need is a network connection or high speed Internet to make this work. No other subscription fees or batteries required.



Sharing desktops
Not sure of how to do something or need some help? With iChat, you can share your desktop with your favorite Mac support guy or gal, and while you watch, they can control your Mac, showing you how to accomplish a needed task or fix something that you thought was broken, but really wasn't.

Calendar
With the standard iCal calendaring software, you can setup meetings, invite participants and keep your life organized. Larger organizations may want to get the affordable Leopard Server which comes with the ability to manage calendars centrally, or with the server version of OS X, centrally manage calendars, resources, and meeting rooms in a snap. Check when others are available or with a single click, have it pick the meeting time for you.

Address Book
Want to go and see someone but not sure of where they live. Find the contact in your Address Book and with one click, bring a Google map of where they live.


Keep your machine running fast.
Nothing slows a computer down like the number of installed, active fonts. With the built in Font Book application, you can turn off all your fonts that you don't commonly use. And if you use a fun or crazy font in a document, whenever you open that document, the font will automatically load and stay active until you close your document, and then the font goes dormant again. No more font fog that slows you down.

Mail
This isn't just any email program. You can create To-do's and notes right from within an email. Most other programs force you to use another program or change interfaces within your email client to do that. Ever go back and forth between an email to put something on your task list? Well, no longer is that required. And when you create a task, it automatically enters that into iCal to keep your calendar up to date.

And if someone sends you their address in your email, it is smart enough to recognize that so you can add it to your contact without having to retype it.

Coverflow
Have a folder full of documents that you are always opening and searching through to find the right one? Well, you can use the blazingly fast Spotlight feature that will search for words inside your documents and emails. Or, use the Coverflow feature to flip through your documents just like a jukebox. And if you see one you want to look at, you can flip through the pages of that document or presentation without having to open the software to do it. How about that for finding that presentation on why your 200 member church needs that million dollar pipe organ?

Print preview.
Ever print something only to realize that it doesn't look the same as it did on screen? Well, that doesn't happen often on the Mac but there is an integrated print preview feature when you go to print so you can see what your documents will look like when your trusty inkjet lovingly lays down layers of ink. And more than 2000 printers are supported allowing you to plug and play with most of today's popular printers without having to install software drivers and all that messy stuff.

There is more than that and you can go to www.apple.com to find out all about Leopard. And FYI, if you're new to the Mac world, since the first version of OS X (pronounced "ten"), each one has had an internal code name after a big cat. Well, the internal code names became popular with Mac fans so now Apple uses the names in their marketing.

Song Presentation Software

I've been looking at some song presentation software to use at different events and I decided to invest in ProPresenter by Renewed Vision. I like it because it's focused on song presentation and doing that one thing very well. Some of the other programs I tried seemed to be trying to do too much and as a result, don't do any one thing well.

The other reason is stability. ProPresenter just seemed to be rock solid whereas some of the other ones crashed on me when I tried to push them. That is my anecdotal evidence, not the final word.

But I'm very happy with it, particularly being able to tie slide timings along with an audio track and the way it just smoothly handles video. I found it easy to use even though the help files were quite short. I never got comfortable with some of the other options.

But ProPresenter is Mac only. And for good reason. It's easy to support. Apple inserts some of the best tools for visual presentations. Macs have supported multiple monitors for years (compared to the problems that Windows has suffered with video drivers for a single monitor) and has the most experience with video playback. It also seamlessly integrates with the iLife programs so you can drag and drop in pictures, movies, and audio clips from QuickTime, iTunes, and iPhoto.

And if your church is growing in complexity is using media in services, you might find that switching to the Mac platform, while initially requires work, will turn out to be a great thing. You can do a lot of the same things on a PC but the workflow will likely be more cumbersome. And when the heat is on in the middle of a service when a change needs to be made, that can mean all the difference between something that goes off smoothly and something that becomes a distraction.

Top 5 Reasons to Go Mac

Here are my top 5 reasons why ministries at a technology crossroad or beginning a path of replacement should consider going Macs instead of PC's.

Reason #1 Ease of use.
Most ministries can only afford volunteer help and then, only at the whim of the volunteers. The ease of use of Macs and friendly messages encourages people to learn new ways to use their computers and maintain them on their own. I work in a technology environment and without the expertise of our full time IT staff and subscribing to multiple protection schemes, many of our users would be in a lot of trouble and would require a rebuild every six months. While it might not be true in your case in particular, it is true in general.

Reason #2 Great software - standard.
Macs come with a standard complement of tools that encourages staff and even lay people to generate great looking results. The iLife package, for instance, gives you video editing, DVD burning, photo management, website and blogging creation tools that are easy to learn, and are integrated across the applications for a seamless approach to working with media.

In addition, the email, calendar, and instant messenger programs are all great tools that can be used to collaborate and communicate easily. iWork gives the small church office a low cost, high quality way to create documents and spreadsheets while still maintaining compatibility with the rest of the Office-using world. And that Keynote presentation software that comes with iWork can easily spice up any message with high quality visuals and wake up a sleepy congregation. At a fraction of the cost. But if you really want Office with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, it's available too. I use it everyday at my all-PC work and most don't realize that I'm even using a Mac.

Reason #3 Viruses. Malware. Adware.
There are hundreds of thousands of viruses, malware, and adware stuff out there that installs easily onto PC's, even with protection. Macs on the other hand have no viruses in the wild (at the time of this writing) and there is only one trojan known trojan type. However, to install the trojan requires the prompt to download an application and the successful entry of an administrative password. And it can't self-propagate to other computers.

There are over 25 million Macs running OS X worldwide and the number is rapidly growing. OS X has been out since 2001 while some phones with far fewer numbers and shorter lifespans have already experienced viruses. What gives? The nod goes to the UNIX underpinnings of Mac OS X that was designed from the ground up to operate in a networked environment, something which the leading operating system was not originally designed to do.

Less viruses and adware means less problems, downtime, and potential security risks.

Reason #4 Long lifecycles. Low cost.
Because most churches can't afford to replace their computers every three years to keep up with technology, Macs are often the lowest cost option because they typically last longer while still running modern versions of software. My 2000 iMac is still running the widely used release of OS X (2005) and is very usable. It may not run the latest 3D games or push pixels in Photoshop, but as a tool for the Internet, email, listening to music, and creating Word documents, it hums along adequately for most end users.

Most people wouldn't even want to run a four year old PC on XP, let alone seven. And while a 7 year old PC is nothing much more than landfill for most, people still pay money for an old iMac or Mac laptop. And at today's prices, Macs compare favorably with

Reason #5 Macs can run windows. In a sandbox.
If you do have that one application or software that you must run and it's Windows only, you can run Windows in a virtual environment on your Intel-based Macintosh with excellent performance providing you have enough RAM memory. And if you keep it to that one program and stay off the Internet in the virtual environment, you can probably expect years of problem free running. If I need to download a file, I do it using my Mac and then drag and drop the file into the virtual environment and run it there.

Funny thing is, I run a heavy duty virtual environment on my Mac laptop better than my counterparts running a PC laptop with the same processor and memory.

There are other great solutions too for running or accessing Windows applications such that for most, it has become a small hurdle rather than an insurmountable obstacle to move to a Mac.

Reason #6 Compatibility
Okay, I said Top 5 but I thought of this one towards the end. Most media, document, and imaging file types from a PC can be opened, edited, and used on a Macintosh. Whether it is Word, Excel, a movie file, an MP3 song, or picture, most of these files can move seamlessly between both platforms. There are some limitations but I've seen PC's suffer just as much incompatibility with files from other PC's. On one occasion, two PC's, the same model, running the same version of PowerPoint, couldn't share the same presentation, but it opened just fine on my Mac. Go figure.

So there you have it. My reasons why a ministry should consider. There are more, which I will cover in other posts. But that is enough to digest so far.