Review The Mac Mini is a machine I half expected Apple to quietly drop. The decline of the desktop personal computer business in general, and the fact that you’ll never see a Mac Mini as a prominent piece of product placement, means this miniature micro is unlikely to ever to hold a place in Apple's heart like the iMac.Indeed, it’s been a full two years since Apple last revised the Mini, leaving many of its fans fearful that it might be on its way out, victim of changing tastes in computing products.But no, just when you’ve given up waiting for the bus and ready to plod your weary way home, along come three — units Apple would once have labelled Good, Better and Best. The year-long wait for Intel’s impressive Haswell processor to come to the Mini is over, and that’s very welcome. Ditto the addition of 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The quid pro quo is the loss of upgradeable RAM.Let’s be clear: the Mini was never an easy upgrade. Getting the hard drive out involves removing all of the machine’s internals. It still does. But at least it used to be a doddle to expand the previous incarnation’s memory: rotate the base, unclip the Wi-Fi card’s antenna, unscrew a metal plate, and there’s your RAM slot.
No longer. The base is clipped in place, and beneath the metal plate ... soldered memory. Apple’s build-to-order memory is less expensive than it used to be — £80 for a 4GB upgrade from the base 4GB isn’t as daunting as £80 was two years ago – but it’s still a darn sight less cost-effective than buying memory from someone like Crucial and fitting it yourself. Doubly so if you want 16GB.Moreover, being able to upgrade your system as you need — rather than investing all at the start – is half the point of buying a desktop rather than a laptop. The other half is better performance, though with the Mini that’s perhaps less of a concern thanks to its laptop-derived parts and ultra-compact form-factor. This is not a computer for customisation.Of course, that’s probably why Apple felt it could get away with its margin-enhancing plan to solder down the RAM; it’s why it stopped bundling an HDMI-DVI adaptor too. No one will upgrade the Mini, it thought; you can’t replace the CPU, and the graphics core is integrated so that can’t be swapped out either.
OK, so that’s not an unreasonable assumption but it’s nonetheless very disappointing for those of us who like Macs for more than their consumer convenience. You can add RAM to the iMac, for instance, so why penalise Mini buyers, especially when you already have an elegantly engineered mechanism for memory upgrades?HP's current mega global branding campaign involves a cute kid who loses his pet green iguana named Ralph. An HP laptop and printer later, he festoons his neighbourhood with posters of the plucky pet, resulting in a boy-and-his-iguana tear-jerker for the ages.But not in Australia, which has a long history of introduced species overrunning locals. Rabbits, camels, foxes and the cane toad are all imported pests in Australia. The latter was introduced to stop another pest but is now a worse problem than the one it was introduced to solve.The problem is so acute that Australia now has an Invasive Species Council aimed at “stopping new invasive species from entering the country and preventing the spread of those weeds and pests that have already established a foothold in Australia.”The council's seen HP's Ralph ads and feels they have two problems.
Firstly, the Council doesn't like the dubbing of an Australian kid's voice onto what is clearly a US-made ad.More importantly, the Council says it's illegal to own green iguanas like Ralph in Australia, a fact that the Council says makes HP's ad “an embarrassing gaffe.”The Council's beef is that prominent media placements of cute animals result in more people buying them as pets. “This happened with clownfish due to Finding Nemo,” the Council sternly intones.Clownfish need complex and expensive marine fish tanks. Iguanas don't and the Council thinks that more demand for Ralphs could have unpleasant consequences.“Like crocodiles, green iguanas make appealing pets when young, but may grow up to two metres long and weigh about 9kg, increasing the risk that illegal pets will be dumped in the bush,” the Council warns. That's bad because, presumably, dumped Ralphs will go feral, eat local wildlife and perhaps breed.“The fact that HP was oblivious to the threat also shows that much more needs to be done by authorities to warn of the dangers of illegal pet ownership,” the Council says, adding that it has written to the company “requesting that they immediately halt their irresponsible campaign and warn their legion of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook friends that keeping the green iguana in Australia is illegal.”
The so-called entry level iMac launched a few months ago may start at (what is for Apple) a relatively affordable £899, but it barely offers the performance of a budget laptop. In contrast, the new iMac with Retina 5K Display starts at a pocket-punishing £1,999, but it provides stronger performance than any previous iMac model – along with a display that none of its Windows rivals can currently match in an all-in-one package.Indeed, the 5K Retina display is the big draw here and boasts an eye-popping resolution of no less than 5120 x 2880 pixels. That’s a total of 14.7 million pixels, equivalent to four times the resolution of the previous 27-inch iMac models and way beyond the 8.3 million pixels of a 4K display.Apple will happily regale you with the technical details of the Retina Display’s design, such as the custom TCON – time controller – that it developed to keep all those pixels in sync, and the compensation film that ensures consistent contrast across the entire display. The bottom line, though, is that the 5K Retina display really is superb.
My office iMac is one of the standard 27-inch models with 2560 x 1440 resolution, and the difference between the two was immediately and visibly obvious. The image on the 5K iMac is brighter and sharper, with richer colours and excellent contrast. The simple photography that I need to do for reviews such as this really doesn’t require a 5K display, but I’ll miss it when it goes back to our friendly dealer and I return to working on my older iMac.Like the Retina-equipped MacBook Pro, the 5K iMac provides a number of looks like scaling options for the screen that adjust the size of text and graphics to mimic lower resolution displays. By default, this is set to look like 2560x1440 – the same as my office iMac – so I found it perfectly comfortable to work with.Applications such as the Final Cut Pro video editor didn’t force me to squint in order to view toolbars and menus properly. And, of course, the logic behind the 5K display is that it allows you to view 4K video at full-size while still leaving an extra 1K chunk of pixels for the toolbars and controls of Final Cut Pro and other high-end editing tools.
Free Wi-Fi makes working at the cafe a breeze. Free Wi-Fi transformed Sydney’s libraries into some of the most sought-after spots in town. Cities blanket themselves in free Wi-Fi to encourage tourists and business and residents to spend more time - and money - in their precincts.If everyone sitting in the library knew that everything they sent and received over their connection could be read by anyone else on the library’s free network, would they close their clamshells and run off screaming? Would they understand the risk of one angry teenager with Wireshark and root access?A free Wi-Fi network almost never has a password. That makes it easy to log on - and easy to read the network traffic of everyone using that ‘open’ network. Transmitted in the clear, every packet of data can be read right off the airwaves.When Telstra recently announced that its soon-to-be-introduced public Wi-Fi hotspots (read: repurposed redundant phone booths) would offer a free trial period to the public, they indicated these Wi-Fi hotspots would be open. No need for a password to log on.
When some pointed out that this meant all the people using these hotspots would be transmitting all of their network traffic in the clear, Telstra indicated they’d put some warnings on the login screen, informing users not to perform sensitive tasks while connected. All well and good, right?Our smartphones these days are terrifically smart. They do all sorts of things without asking, such as checking the weather forecast, grabbing the latest batch of emails, downloading a podcast, etc. We like our smartphones to have the things we want when we want them, and that has made them proactive.You can not tell your smartphone to stop anticipating your needs. When it logs onto Wi-Fi it’s going to do all the things it knows it needs to do in order to keep you well fed and watered. It’s going to do that in full view of hundreds of others. Including that script kiddie with Wireshark and root.Although Telstra makes their money mostly from mobiles, they - and many others - seem to be unaware how these devices work, or why people need secure connections - especially in public.
I am not paranoid about security. I know plenty of folks who are (the world needs more like them), but I am willing to assume some risks. Requiring WPA2 authentication to access a public Wi-Fi network isn’t a panacea - if you really need to be secure, you probably shouldn’t be using Wi-Fi at all - but it’s infinitely better than sending all network traffic in the clear.The urge to create unsecured Wi-Fi networks is entirely understandable. Many people fumble over their own Wi-Fi passwords. Putting a password on a public Wi-Fi hotspot will limit the number who use it. But just as people learned how to lock their cars when they park them in a public lot, we now need to learn how to use shared electronic resources. The people and organizations offering these resources must consider the safety of their users. Open networks represent an unacceptable and unnecessary risk.Whenever you see an open network, consider asking those providing that service if they honestly meant to make all of their patrons’ data visible to the world. Most would have no idea that’s what they’ve done - and might even be horrified by the risky environment they created. Suggest they secure the network with an SSID named something like Cafe password is in order to make it as easy as possible for users to chart the safer course.
On a recent visit to the Qantas Club, I realised their Wi-Fi network - used almost universally by everyone in the Club - was wide open. If someone came in and sniffed that network for a few hours, what kinds of corporate secrets could they gather?Most Qantas Club Wi-Fi users sit with tablets or laptops, surfing the web. If you’re surfing to a secure website - such as Google, Facebook or Twitter - that’s not quite as risky, because HTTPS will encrypt all the traffic between web browser and server. Someone will still be able to snoop on all your metadata - what sites you visited, and when - but not the content of that traffic. Not great, but better than letting the whole world read your Gmail.When I fanned through my open browser tabs, I could see which websites provided secure HTTPS authentication and encryption - and which hadn’t bothered. Ironically, the Junkee.com essay penned by Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, in which he makes a stirring call to #StopDataRetention, was transmitted in the clear. The site Ludlam used to publish his views on security has taken no steps to protect its users from metadata gathering.