The OS Quest Trail Log #19: New Year Edition

Well, we just kicked off a new year, at least for those of us who use the Gregorian calendar. Despite the title this isn’t a predictions or resolutions post.

Actually I think the first topic is more for me than for you. I’ve become hooked on posting to the site and I figure it’ll be easier to break the addiction if I write down that I’m breaking it. I’ll be posting less so I can spend more time working on projects and learning new stuff. I’ll post about the progress when there’s something worth talking about. It’s more a mind set change on my part since I’ll no longer be working on things based upon how well they fit into a posting schedule.

The initial project I want to work on is getting WordPress running on Ubuntu server (in a VM). It’s not about getting WordPress up and running and more about getting a LAMP stack running. It’s just easier for me if I have an goal that can define success, instead of “install and play”. Windows Home Server is also intriguing me and I look forward to spending more time with it.

Coinciding with my plan to post less and learn more,  I came across a couple reviews for software that was on my list to write-up since I use and like them. These reviews are so good I crossed them off my list and link to them in the “Reviews” sections below.

Frustrations

Like it says up top, it is a frustrating journey and there were a couple minor scares this week.

I’m currently working on an iMac where Spaces has decided to stop jumping to the Space where the app is when I switch to or start an app. Instead it brings the menu to my current Space, leaving the application windows in the far away Space. I suspect a reboot will fix it but I haven’t wanted to shut everything down. But this is the second night and it’s become most annoying.

Not to be outdone when I started my MacBook yesterday the keyboard went south. The numlock LED was on (I forgot it had one and where it was). The caps lock LED was also on, although the indicator in the password field was indicating the opposite status. But that didn’t matter since I couldn’t type in the password field. The mouse worked so I powered off and on and then things were fine. I think I’d have felt better if it stayed broken or if I at least had to do something to fix it (disconnect a drive, uninstall software, anything). I hate intermittent problems.

Software Updates

Mozy

I upgraded MacMozy to version 0.9.0.0 a couple days ago. When this update notice first came out the link was broken (both in Mozy and on their website) and the software couldn’t be downloaded, but I was able to get it Wednesday. I haven’t noticed any real problems but did come across one anomaly. Activity Monitor reports Mozy as not responding.

 

As you can see Activity Monitor does show CPU activity (it changes). This is both when no backup is occurring and when they are occurring. Backups run just fine and on schedule. I’ve also restored a couple newly created and edited files and they’re fine. Among the changes was “decreased cpu usage of status icon” but the status icon is the “Mozy Status” process.

Another change in this version is an option to show hidden files. The timing of this was ideal as I had begun to back up my iDisk using Mozy. When I selected the entire iDisk it told me I was going to backup up a couple hundred gig, even after I deselected all the common .Mac hosted folders such as Groups. What I found is a hidden file in iDisk called .filler.idsff that Mozy saw as almost 200GB. By enabling hidden files I could exclude it. This is important for me because selecting the entire iDisk and deselecting directories I don’t want means new directories will be backed up. If I had to select directories individually I’d have to have remembered to add newly created directories.

In case you’re wondering I keep my iDisk local on my Macs so I get better performance. Even though .Mac can be considered a backup there’s always the possibility a deleted or corrupt file will get synced out of existence so I wanted a backup and I wanted Mozy’s 30-day history.

WordPress 2.3.2

WordPress came out with a security update and I installed the update over the weekend. I took the opportunity to update my plug-ins and Mint at the same time. There’s not much to add beyond what I already said.

On a related topic, WordPress 2.4 will be skipped and WordPress 2.5 is still scheduled for March. I have to say I’m happy. I like to keep software up to date but quarterly version releases is too much for my taste when those releases add or change features. And that’s from someone who likes updating software. It would be different if the threat of a forced update wasn’t always looming over the horizon due to a newly found vulnerability. It’s easier to upgrade when the only changes are security related, updates that include feature changes take longer.

 

Windows Home Server

I continue to like Windows Home Server. I copied my Aperture library to share and it seemed to work fine. But I decided not to keep it there. I was uncomfortable leaving it there. Between being a network drive and not being a native OS X format I was concerned about stability. Besides, Aperture isn’t really an application I share between Macs and it would screw up my backup plan which centers around files on my iMac’s local drive.

I have been running a small iPhoto library off a share without an issue but I haven’t done thorough testing.

A alternative for Aperture, iPhoto or any Mac software that saves data in a bundle is to create a sparse disk image file and put that on the network share. It can then be mounted to access the data. I didn’t have any problem running this off a home server share either while doing so quick testing. But that also affects my backup plans as it’s now one big file. Even though the bundle looks like one big file my file syncing and backup software sees the files inside it and can deal with them individually.

HP has announced that my HP MediaSmart Server will be getting an update involving PacketVideo technology which should add “advanced graphics such as thumbnails of photos, in-menu browsing and album art” and improve streaming to other digital devices. 64-bit Vista support will also be added along with McAfee anti-virus software (for the server side). McAfee will only be free for seven months. I’m not sure I want McAfee running on any of my boxes. My experience with them (years ago) is that they took over the machine almost as bad as Symantec and I swore off both them and Symantec.

Jungle Disk has a beta version of their backup software for Windows Home Server available for free. Jungle Disk doesn’t have all the features of their current Windows/OSX/Linux software but they seem to have plans to add the features that make sense (like block level backups). The software is free during the beta but requires an Amazon S3 account. Their regular software is a reasonable $20 for lifetime upgrades so I wouldn’t expect the WHS version to be more than that. I’ve been running the beta with just minor and already reported issues.

News.com has a short article about how Windows Home Server remains a tough sell. It’s the last two lines that caught my attention:

One area that Microsoft may look at to boost the popularity of the Home Server is having the software work better in households that have both Macs and Windows PCs.

“That’s something we are taking a close look at,” VanRoekel said, though he added that Microsoft has “nothing to announce.”

That can only be good for me.

 

Reviews

Transmit

Transmit by Panic Inc. is an FTP client for the Mac and it’s become a favorite of mine. I started with Fetch because it did what I wanted at the time but I eventually added Transmit and it’s what I now use exclusively. I use it every day if scheduled tasks are taken into account.

Shawn Blanc has written a thorough review of Transmit. Like Shawn, favorites are one of my favorite features (pun intended) since they’re more than just links. I like his idea to add a notes feature to favorites. He also mentions my biggest pet peeve about Transmit:

The basic interface of Transmit is perfectly blunt. You’ve got “Your Stuff” on the left and “Their Stuff” on the right.

Your Stuff is what’s on your computer, and Their Stuff is what’s on the server. I like the idea, but I do think it could be named better. Just because a file is on another server doesn’t mean it’s “theirs”. I would prefer to see these named as “Here” and “There”, or “Local” and “Over Yonder”.

Every time I see the screen I mutter “it’s all my stuff”. It’s probably embarrassing to admit, but I had a hard time getting my head around that, I would always have to think twice or even three times when I did a synchronize that would delete files. At least now I’ve used it enough the automatically think local and remote.

The next review is also by Shawn and both are part of his series of reviews titled “Some of the Greatest Software Available for your Mac“, which is still a work in progress. NetNewsWire (a desktop RSS reader) is already reviewed and 5 more apps along with one piece of hardware are also on the list. The reviews are so good I can’t fault him that Mint isn’t Mac software (although there are OS X widgets available) and his ninth item isn’t even software.

Mint

Mint is web site stats software. Like the Transmit review, Shawn’s review of Mint is extremely thorough, starting with some history. If you’re looking for a web site stats package check out Mint and Shawn’s review of it. Mint is hosted in your domain and requires MySQL and PHP. There’s community support (and in some cases plug-ins) for WordPress, Moveable type and others. In my case I was able to implement Mint with a plug-in so I didn’t have to even edit any templates.

 

News and Links

WPCandy.com published a new advanced reference sheet for WordPress to add to their previous WordPress help sheet.

Firefox has a bug that can allow a malicious hacker to spoof a validation dialog. The link is more appropriate to the Wednesday security links but Firefox will probably be updated by then.