Thursday, April 30, 2009

Intuos4 Unboxing

Yes, that is the pretty new toy. After a bit of delay with things such as work, family, supporting friends, etc. I've finally gotten a chance to get up the pictures I took of my Intuos4 unboxing. As you can see, Wacom has stepped things up on their packaging, and seem to have done a nice job on the look of both the tablet and the box it comes in. The front of the package is quite simple, merely showing the product. You know their name, you know what a tablet is. If they need to tell you more, then this product is not really for you. Oh, and they also show down in the bottom left corner which of the sizes this tablet is. I like their subtle nudge that they have four of these, with two larger than the one I got.

The back of the box is pretty and informative (I have a larger pic for this one). They call out all the main features, including all the ooohs and aaahs that they should evoke. One main point of interest for the international (aka non-US) crowd is down at the very center bottom. It states "MOUSE INCLUDED", since I've read that the overseas version has to be purchased separately. Also they note that the tablet is shown actual size, so it is very helpful for a potential customer browsing in the store.

The front and back are part of a cover that slips down over the actual box. Once that is removed we see the box itself. It says "intuos4" in nice friendly letters on the cover. By this point I can see that Wacom was definitely taking lessons from Apple on their packaging. (I should also probably point out that I am not very practiced in photography, so the flash tended to wash things out and reflect a bit. Given that the battery on my camera was busy dying, I decided not to try to set up something more complex).

Lifting up the first flap of the box reveals "Where it all begins" in several languages. Again, friendly and welcoming. Also they have directions printed on the inside of that top flap. The three steps seem to be

  1. put in the disc
  2. install the software
  3. connect the tablet

They realize that nobody really reads the directions, so they need to get things going as simply as possible.

Lifting up the second set of flaps reveals the tablet itself resting comfortably in it's nice protective foam sleeve. Like the rest of the packaging, this is a very pretty black (my flash did not do it justice). Also at this point I was struck by how light and efficient the packaging was. It definitely conveyed at least the feel of being more eco-conscious.

Sliding the tablet itself over a bit reveals more of the plastic it was sitting on, along with the stylus just below. All the rest is still hidden... probably to impress you more with the two parts you really care about.

Finally the view we have been waiting for. The tablet and stylus removed from their protective wrappings to bask in all their glory. The flash picks out the different textures, but in person all the parts are just about the same shade of black. The left edge is a high-gloss translucent finish, whereas the rest of the frame is a matte finish with a nice feel to it. Quite comfortable to rest one's hand or arm on. You can also see that the eraser end of the stylus is quite different.

I set my Intuos3 stylus down for a side-by-side comparison. The front looks just about the same, but the back is shorter and the eraser is definitely more "nubby." The Intuos4 stylus also had a lighter feel to it.

This next shot really shows off the glossy side with all the buttons. Under normal lighting the buttons and touch wheel do appear to be almost the same black as the glossy hard plastic. The way the buttons are all on one side now are quite evident, along with their placement to facilitate easy single-hand operation. Here you can see the "wacom" at the bottom, which hits where the tablet starts to curve down. There is a corresponding logo on the top, upside down, for when the tablet is used in left-handed mode.

Lifting out the black plastic tray reveals the packing of the additional bits. To the left is the nice, long USB cable. In the middle is the very Apple-ish box with the driver CD and such. On the right is the revamped stylus holder. It has secrets. We'll see more on that next.

Here is a shot with the stylus holder opened to reveal its trove of goodies. The top comes off with a quick quarter-turn to reveal a foam bed with ten nibs and a changing tool in the middle. This seems like it will make things much more convenient.

Under the box with the CD is hidden the nice goodie (at least for those in the US)... the new mouse. As with the other pretty parts, it's in a nice protective cover so that you will be the first one to get to scratch it up.

There's the new mouse. One negative is that the two buttons on the side are now gone. However, it has some secrets to make up for that. More later on that. One thing to note is that this shot does give a good idea of the actual colors of the different pieces (the flash didn't wash it out too much).

Here we have it all together. The flash is really washing out the smooth blackness of the normal appearance. And the mouse definitely is not blue nor gray; just two textures of a nice black.

For comparison I set the Intuos3 mouse and pen next to the Intuos4. The new mouse is definitely more rounded, and the styling on the stylus holder is even nicer. It is also clear that the Intuos4 mouse is smaller. I'm not sure how it will work for people with larger hands, but it fits mine quite well.

Another angle on the accessories.

Comparing the Intuos4 medium to my Intuos3 6x8, the evolution of the tablet is easy to see. The newer area has a widescreen aspect ratio, to match modern displays. There is also a bit less tablet above and below the active area.

And switching them to give a better idea of lighting, etc. The matte edges of the Intuos4 really contrast with the glossy finish on all of the Intuos3.

From the left sides of the tablets. (trying to give a fair impression of their shape, etc)

From the right sides of the tablets.

And looking at the new mouse and stylus on top of the old tablet.

Even the bottom of the tablet is pretty and well designed. One thing to note here is that there is a slider on the left edge of the bottom.

That slider is used to expose and cover the USB connectors on the side. When one switches between right and left handed use, the slider will expose the connector away from the user and cover the other connector to protect it and keep it from becoming gunked up.

In my initial comparison to the Intuos3 a few points stood out

  • The feel of the surface and nibs struck me as much more paper-like. This should make the artists out there much happier.
  • The two touch strips were replaced by the single touch wheel. However the use of that is much more natural, and the addition of the mode toggle in the center makes for nice potential.
  • The mouse has a z-axis!!! This is probably the top feature for mouse/puck use. Before this, one would have to move their hand aligned to the tablet itself, regardless of the angle of the mouse, in order to move straight. With the Intuos4 the mouse reports the "twist" of the angle it is on, and the drivers compensate for this to make it move like any normal mouse, regardless of the orientation of the tablet.
  • There are OLED displays next to each of the programmable buttons. The stock software can make them switch per app (which is perfect for making the tablet suddenly say your daughter's name and freak her out)

I will have to revisit with some details on actual use later. However it seems to work well with OS X, Inkscape and decent with Windows. I did have a problem with the drivers triggering a sleep problem on a Windows XP laptop, but that might be due to XP in general. I was not able to test under Linux since the wacom drivers only now are supporting it in the dev versions, and I was not quite ready to try poking those in (need to update to Jaunty among other things).

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Friday, April 10, 2009

What's on My Bookshelf

What's on my bookshelf? That is usually a good question, especially when it comes to software developers and people starting out... but my current answer is "nothing". Of course, before people get the impression that I hate books, or can't read, or such, I should probably clarify things. A little while back we had a bit of a problem with our house. Luckily no people were harmed... but this is what our shelves ended up looking like.

That's right, we had a wee bit of a problem with a house fire. As I mentioned, all people were OK, but the contents were totaled... including the few software books I owned. Oh, and our inkjet printer that was halfway across the house didn't fare too well either. (I never knew they made printers out of spaghetti).

However, in talking with some potential Google Summer of Code students over at Cal State LA the subject came up. It is a good one, and very helpful even to programmers who have been out of school for a while. First off, I should point out that I am not one who buys nor reads many technical books. It started off originally from not having much money, so books were a luxury (well, technical ones... books just for reading are a necessity). By the time I could buy more, I didn't really want to since books on programming tend to be out of date so quickly nowadays. And for the most part, I could get detailed and more specific information from the Internet.

The following books, though, should be read by anyone working on software:

"The Mythical Man-Month" - Frederick P. Brooks Jr. (anniversary edition)
ISBN 0-201-83595-9
The granddaddy of them all. Although first published in 1975 it is still very applicable today. The abstract concepts were found and present well and hold up more than a quarter century later. Be sure to track down the anniversary edition with "No Silver Bullet" in it. It also helps that this is a fairly thin book, so one can actually read it. (Admit it, not many of you pour through gigantic tomes. or at least not to the detail to which they deserve)

"Code Complete" - Steve McConnell
ISBN 978-1556154843 First edition (1993)
ISBN 978-0735619678 Second edition (June 2004)
Big fat textbook on software coding. This one is huge, but well worth the read. Also it has already been distilled down to the essentials, so don't skim through it. Definitely one to be taken a chapter at a time. My personal feeling is that this very savvy person set out to write the definitive textbook on software construction and nailed it. This one also is chock full of studies, statistics and citations.

"Agile Software Development with Scrum" - Ken Schwaber, Mike Beedle
ISBN 978-0-735-61993-7
This, I think, is a number one "must read", second only to The Mythical Man-Month (and in slight contrast to Code Complete, which is a "must slog through"). The key here is that it explains why the software industry has gotten its process almost completely wrong. Waterfall is broken and can't work, etc. It also points out how to make a software development process that actually works. I've been on teams that have brought this into companies both large and small, and it works. Very well. Also it is a very thin book, so all should be able to read it. However, if some of you don't want to actually track down and read a book made of actual paper, the first chapter is available online as "Get Ready for Scrum". (Just be sure to read all 8 pages, since the online article lists it as 7. Don't miss that last page)

"Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change" - Kent Beck
For those who know of extreme programming, there is a tendency to either hate it or love it (if you hate it, then you don't "get" it). However, I am surprised at how many people I meet nowadays who aren't familiar with it. (I guess they don't get the joke of Microsoft renaming Windows 2000++ to be "XP" either). Anyway, this is a very good book and even manages to weave in citations of both anthropological studies of the 60s and Spinal Tap. When understood and put into practice correctly, I believe that XP practices (Beck's, not Microsoft's) lead to very high productivity. However it is easy to get them wrong, and I believe that even the book "Extreme Programming Implemented" in the same series misses the mark on some things, including pair programming. Again, this is a relatively thin, so no excuses for not reading it.

"Rapid Development" - Steve McConnell
Another good tome by Steve McConnell. Whereas Code Complete focuses on actually writing code, this one focuses on managing a software project. Quite handy, but again one to take a single chapter at a time.

"Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams" - Demarco & Lister
ISBN 0-932633-43-9
This is a bit of an older book, but very handy for team leads, managers, etc. Also is a thin book, so no excuse...

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