I bought an iMac.

Last week, I pulled the trigger and bought myself an iMac. This has been in my long term plans for a while, and I finally decided it was time.

I ended up getting the stock 27 inch model with the 2 Terabyte fusion drive. I added 16 gigs of Crucial RAM for a total of 24 rather than spend money on Apple’s RAM. My preference by far would have been the 512Gig SSD, but Apple seems to have underestimated its popularity so units with that build option were backordered 10-14 days. Because of the larger SSD part of the fusion drive with the 2TB — the 1TB fusion only has 32GB of flash, where the 2TB has 128GB — the model that made sense was the high end unit. Since I could literally order it and have it delivered to my porch the next morning, I went with the stock instead of buying a CPU or any other upgrade. And yes, it’s wonderfully decadent to have a computer delivered to your door on demand.

I have traditionally used migration assistant to shift my data from machine to machine, but for this update I decided to manually copy stuff over and reinstall all of the apps from scratch. I did this for a couple of reasons, one was to leave behind literally a decade-plus of random stuff hiding out on the hard drive and using it to decide what apps I really need installed and leaving the rest behind.

But it also seemed a good test to my goal of not being dependent on a single computer and seeing how well my data lives independently of any one device. Between iCloud and Dropbox, with one big exception everything fell right into place almost perfectly; I synced up Dropbox and everything was there.

The one exception: Lightroom. Not unexpected, because Adobe still doesn’t support you sticking your catalogs on the cloud and accessing them from multiple machines (and the size of things makes that somewhat prohibitive still, anyway). So I had to move my Lightroom catalogs and the images living on the laptop (most of my images live on the NAS unless I’m actively working on them), and then grab and install my presets.

Other than that, I had to copy no data across. Mission accomplished.

Lightroom did cause some disturbances in the force. I make use of publish channels to keep my Smugmug site updated, and they all had to be re-initialized. Which meant needing to delete everything off Smugmug and re-uploading. That created a various breakages that I had to go into Smugmug to fix, and while doing that I realized there were other problems with how images were ending up in the right galleries (i.e. “they weren’t”) that I hadn’t noticed, and that meant finding fixes and making changes and breaking a whole lot more stuff until I got it all sorted out.

Of course, that also meant (because: of course it did) that all my smug mug links on the main web site broke and needed to be fixed. Most of this was anticipated and it took me a couple of days to fix. The “whoops, this is broken” part added another day before it all settled out and was where I wanted it to be. I make big use of Lightroom keywords and smart galleries to populate Smugmug, which I really like and I need to write up some day.

I have been trying to shift my apps and work so that it works cleanly in the cloud and across machines and platforms: if a tool doesn’t sync data between MacOS and IOS cleanly, I won’t use it. My goal is an empty Documents folder, and I seem to have accomplished that.

Given the data sizes for my images and my video work, I’m not going to criticize Adobe for not being set up for this; they’re actually working towards that with their Lightroom Mobile work but the data sets are still too large and cumbersome.

Taking a look, my boot drive on the iMac has 190 Gigs of data on it. 120 gigs of that is in my home directory, and 90 of that is Lightroom. The rest is the Windows 10 VM and Dropbox. The Applications folder is 50 Gigs, of which 10 is Xcode, of course.

The rest lives on my Synology NAS, including 400Gigs of images.

Going back to a two machine setup

Once I was sure I had all the data on the laptop secured (and I have two copies stored in different places), I reformatted the laptop and installed the High Sierra beta on it, using the APFS filesystem. It’s going to be my test bed for all of that. Next up I’ll be installing Dropbox and the apps, and the goal is to treat it as a data-less machine, in that nothing lives on it that isn’t in the cloud, so in theory I could simply not back it up (but I will). It’s new purpose is as a portable writing machine and for Lightroom work in the field, and so all I really need to do is get Dropbox going and install the needed Apps.

And, well, Lightroom. My current plan is to run a separate catalog on it, ingest images during trips into it for evaluation and processing, then export all of that for import into the main one on the iMac. This mean I won’t have access to all of my images in the field, but I really don’t need that, and I’ll be experimenting with Adobe’s Lightroom Mobile for ways to start making that happen. I hope that eventually Adobe will let me use Smart previews to export selected images to the cloud and then access and modify those either on IOS or on a second Mac via Lightroom and have the changes sync back to the main library. The technology isn’t there yet.

My last desktop

I’ve been trying to remember when I last used a laptop/desktop combo for my personal computing; I’ve long been a “laptop that I dock” person, going back to the days of the Duo dock. I may have had a blue and white tower in the house for a while, but I honestly don’t remember. The last time I know I had a personal desktop device (as opposed to a work one) was the Mac Iici. (edit: I remembered this morning that I bought one of the iMacs, back in the day, the sage green one. So that’s my most recent desktop)

So this is a big change for me. Although with the maturation of cloud data setups and supporting apps, in reality, it’s actually not a big deal. My personal data universe virtualizes across computers nicely with a little thought and good choices of Apps. Hint to app developers: if you don’t support cloud data storage in a clean way, and if you don’t support cross platform cleanly (at least multi-macs, but also IOS) you’re obsolete and you have a big problem.

Unless you have the kind of data/storage issues you find with large photo collections or video. Those are still out in the future. But I simply can’t conceive of going back to an app where my data and usage doesn’t follow me across machines magically.

Why did I do this?

So, after all these years, why did I do this? When I bought the new MacBook last fall, I knew that for some of my work — HDR and Panorama stitching in Lightroom and video work in Final Cut Pro — it was going to struggle, and it does. It’s fine, but sometimes it feels slow. I was holding out hope for a new Mac mini rather than going for the iMac, but I ended up at an Apple Store one day and went and looked at these new iMacs, and, oh, the screen. The monitor I was using with the Laptop was quite good, but the iMac screen color and the detail just blew me away. At that point, I knew it was a matter of time.

Last night I did my first stitched panoramas on the new machine. Where a ten image panorama on the laptop would be a “go get a cup of tea” moment, the ones I tried last night were ready in under a minute. Massively faster. I haven’t tried any video projects yet, but I’m going to go out and do some test shooting soon and we’ll see how that goes.

Overall impressions

Having lived with the new computer for the last week or so while doing a lot of fairly intense processing trying to get the Lightroom/Smugmug challenges sorted out and the various web sites unbroken that it caused, I love the speed. It’s subtle but very noticeable in day to day tasks, and when I dig in to something CPU intensive, the response is great.

I love the iMac design, although I have to ask why they thought putting the card reader slot on the back of the monitor where I have to turn the monitor to access it? Really? Not something I can do by feel, and it’s one small “design over usability” annoyance I’ve run into. Enough so that I’m adding a thunderbolt dock to the mix.

But other than that? So far, it’s all Just Worked. That I’ve been planning for going multi-machine and cloud centric for a while helped, but the tools have all matured to the point where you can do that without compromises, and in fact, not having those capabilities feels like the compromise now.

Which is kind of funny, because this is the kind of virtual environment we were trying to build out back in the Sun Microsystem days with ND and later NFS. And that was a good start, and now — well, here we are.

Now that I’m settled in, I’ll write up something on the tools I use and why I chose them and talk a bit more of setting yourself up in this cloud-centric environment. Expect that to show up soon…