Wants, needs, and workflows

The first line of this article by Clayton Morris made me happy:

Get ready, because the iMacs are coming.

As I’ve mentioned before, my 2006 iMac is getting creaky and needs to be replaced before it breaks down completely. If new iMacs weren’t long overdue, I would’ve replaced it months ago. So what do Clayton’s sources have to say about the next iMac?

A few things we can count on in the new iMacs are new Ivy Bridge processors,


improved graphics chips,

Of course.

USB 3.0,

No doubt.

and expanded SSD capacities.

Good. I like the idea of hybrid storage in a desktop machine, with an SSD for speed and a spinning platter for capacity. Anything else?

Also look for a new slimmer design with Apple finally removing the optical drive from the side.


Don’t get me wrong. If it were up to me, I’d never use a CD or DVD again. And I can’t say that stripping the iMac of its optical drive is unexpected.1 I was just hoping it wouldn’t be dropped until the generation after this coming one.

The reason is that while I am perfectly ready to give up optical drives, my clients definitely are not. In fact, as scanners have made it easier to turn reams of paper into PDFs, my clients are more likely to send me data DVDs now than ever before. By the end of one recent project, I had gradually accumulated a stack of at least three dozen disks, all courtesy of the busy scanner at my client’s office.

As someone who’s always been able to choose my own work computers, I’ve often felt sorry for people who have to use crappy company-issued machines to satisfy the rules laid down by their IT departments. But the freedom of “being your own boss” only goes so far, and for me that freedom stops at the optical drive. If Clayton’s sources are right, I’ll have to buy a SuperDrive or the equivalent.

I had a similar thought this past week while the Back2Mail promotion was going on. While I’d dearly love to simplify the way I archive old email and use utilities like MailTags and Mail Act-On, I just can’t. Because some of my work involves litigation,2 I often have to produce all of my email correspondence on a particular project. The only way I can do that reliably is to save every email, incoming and outgoing, in a project-specific folder. When I hear of clever email-handling workflows based on searching or tagging, I get jealous and ask myself “Can I adapt that to what I need to do?” So far, the answer has always been no.

Sometimes the workflows imposed on me by my job have opened my eyes to new and better ways of doing things. For example, the photographs I take for work have to be identified according to the date on which I took them. Back in the days of film, this identification took the form of a sticker with the date and frame number stuck on the back of each print. When I switched to digital photography a dozen or so years ago, I needed that same quick access to the identifying date and frame number. The EXIF metadata within each JPEG file kind of provided that, but getting at it certainly wasn’t quick. So I wrote my canonize script to pull information out of the metadata and put it into the file name. It worked so well I started using it for all my photos, personal and business.

Whether the new iMacs come with an optical drive or not, I’ll be first in line to order one. The spinning beachball that keeps popping up on my current machine doesn’t fit into anyone’s workflow.

  1. One thing is certain. There should be no “this wouldn’t have happened if Steve Jobs were still alive” complaints if the new iMac comes without an optical drive. That’s exactly the sort of thing he would do; it is, in fact, exactly the sort of thing he did

  2. As discussed with David Sparks and Katie Floyd during my overly long appearance on their Mac Power Users podcast