Apple Update iLife Apps

Apple released patches for several apps in the iLife ’08 Suite. iPhoto 7.1.4 is the only one that contains feature enhancements in addition to the typical “compatibility” and “stability updates”:

This update contains new holiday greeting card and postcard themes for use with Apple print products.

There’s also iMovie 7.1.4, iWeb 2.0.4, and a general iLife Support 8.3 update. All three contain the terse description:

This update improves overall stability and addresses a number of other minor issues. It is recommended…

I applied the update to all my Macs without incident. No reboot is required. iPhoto is the only app I use and I haven’t noticed any issues with it.

Windows Home Server Power Pack 1

 

Windows Home Server Power Pack 1 has been officially released and I just finished installing the update on my Windows Home Server. The update was straight-forward and quick, taking less than 30 minutes.

Even though WHS can do folder duplication to prevent hard disk failure, that doesn’t do much if he whole server goes down or files are corrupted (or an OS update goes terribly wrong) so I always have copies of the files elsewhere. Because of this I didn’t have to worry about backups. I also hadn’t installed the PP1 beta so there was no need to uninstall it or worry about any special considerations it might impose.

Power Pack 1 Upgrade

My configuration is: HP470 MediaSmart server with 3 additional 1GB drives, Windows Vista running under VMware on Mac OS X. I have additional Windows VMs but the were not used for the upgrade.

The upgrade process was straight-forward and also documented on Microsoft’s download page for the update. You can also wait until it goes out as an automatic update in August.

1. I uninstalled my existing add-ins. While not documented as necessary I figured this was the safest way. I’d check for updates before I re-installed and any problem add-ins would be easy to identify.

2. I had an update from HP waiting for me so I installed that first. I’m not sure if it matters whether or not it’s installed before PP1 but if automatic updates where enabled it would already be installed so I figured it was safer to do it first. It includes two new add-ins which I didn’t install yet. More on these latter.

3. I downloaded Power Pack 1 from Microsoft and followed their instructions to copy it to the server. When I tried to run it I received a permissions error. I had to go into the file properties and click the “Unblock” button. Execution was blocked because the file was copied from another computer.

4. After the update was installed the server did a nerve-rackingly long reboot. There is an option to postpone the reboot.

5. I then had to update the connector software on my Windows vm. I connected to the software share and ran WHSConnectorInstall.exe from the Home Server Connector Software directory. The installation wizard was very basic. Changes (from what I remember) include an option to wake the PC from sleep in order to do a backup along with an option to update the connector software automatically in the future.

Add-In From HP

The HP update provides two add-ins. The first is MacAfee Total Protection Service, a virus scanner. I installed this out of curiosity and soon uninstalled it. It requires registration for a 7-month trial, after which it’s a paid server. Since I didn’t want AV anyway I didn’t go through the registration process.

The second add-in is PVConnect, a media server add-in. I did install this although haven’t used it yet. It does seem like an ideal add-in for a Windows Home Server used to server audio and video.

Additional Tweaks

The big change is that PP1 fixes the data corruption bug but there are additional tweaks there too.

The most noticeable change is that now there’s an alert when there’s an add-in available but uninstalled. To clear the alert you either have to intall the add-in or check the box to ignore the alert as shown below:

Of course, deleting the add-in from the Add-In directory also works.

It’s only been about an hour, but so far everything seems fine. I don’t use remote access through the web server so I don’t know if anything has changed there.

WordPress 2.6 Released

WordPress 2.6 has been released. It’s an upgrade to WordPress 2.5.x so the WordPress 2.5.x branch won’t be updated anymore. Eventually there’ll be a security related update that requires upgrading to WordPress 2.6.x so I figured I’d get it over with sooner rather than later.

It’s a fairly straight-forward upgrade, just some file copies. It took me longer to verify the backups than to do the actual upgrade. I didn’t have any plugin compatibility or other problems and found this line from the announcement to be true:

2.6 is pretty much identical to 2.5 from a plugin and theme compatibility point of view, so upgrades from 2.5 should be pretty painless.

I haven’t looked specifically at the new features yet, but everything seems to be working fine. There was talk of turning remote publishing via XML-RPC and APP off by default. This is true for new installs but in my case it stayed enabled during the upgrade and I didn’t have to do anything to re-enable Windows Live Writer posting – it just worked.

Attack of the Hard Drives

I just connected another hard drive to my iMac which meant I ended up with the mess shown below. That’s 4 drives, with 1.8TB of space (that’s in addition to the 500GB in the iMac itself). Seems like overkill to me. In my defense I submit that I’m paranoid about backups and as far as I’m concerned a file doesn’t exist unless it’s in two places. To make matters worse I don’t consider RAID or my WHS file duplication to be two places since it’s still one device. Still, things are out of hand. So what do we have here?

AttackOfTheHardDrives

Starting on the left is a SimpleTech 500GB USB drive. This drive is the one that’s given me the most problems. The cable it came with didn’t fit well so connectivity would come and go. It doesn’t play well with SuperDuper, as SuperDuper usually locks up when it’s cloning to the drive. Right now it’s used a temp backup location and I haven’t had any problems doing normal file copies. It also has a blue LED oval on the top that flashes in rotation as the drive is in use. Very annoying.

Next to the SimpleTech we have my Western Digital 500GB MyBook drive with a FireWire 800 connection. By far my favorite and most reliable external drive. Most of it’s life has been spent as a backup clone of my iMac that was updated daily. But now it’s got two partitions. One for my virtual machines (for Parallels and VMware) and the other as a (currently unused) data drive.

Then I have a Maxtor 320GB FireWire drive that’s used for my Time Machine backup. I only back up selected files so the fact that’s it’s smaller than my iMac disk hasn’t been a problem and after several months only 170GB out of the 320GB is used. The drive itself has been reliable but rather slow to spin up. Works fine with Time Machine.

Then at the very right I have one of the 500GB eSATA drives that was removed from my WHS that’s in a Galaxy enclosure that’s connected to the iMac via USB. This is used to keep a backup clone of my iMac. The blue LED around the base isn’t to my taste but it doesn’t flash so it’s easy to ignore.

In all these cases I don’t use any software or drivers that were bundled with the drives.

Time Machine and the disk clone are a duplication of effort but I like that Time Machine backs up my files throughout the day and keeps a history. I like that I can boot from the clone and get right to work so each serves a purpose. Having the clone came in handy once after a OS X patch went bad. Even though there’s room on my iMac drive for them, I like having the VMs on a separate drive because it helps overall performance and I want FireWire 800 for the speed.

In addition to what’s shown here I also have 1.6TB worth of files on my Windows Home Server. Due to the disk duplication feature (to avoid losing files in the event of a drive failure) most of the WHS disk space is already used.

But my disk needs are only going to grow since I’m going for digital media rather than CDs and DVDs. Excluding backups, I need about 2TB for my data and to run my iMac, and that’s growing.  I need a plan.

I’ve decided to turn off disk duplication for my Video files on the Windows Home Server. This will free up over a terabyte. As backups for these files I’ll copy them to some extra hard drives I have (the ones removed when I upgraded the WHS). Since these files don’t change as each drive is filled up I’ll move it offsite for storage. It’s just the bare drive so it doesn’t take up much space. It will give me a second copy with the added benefit of being offsite. Since hard drives need to spin I will have to spin them up once or twice a year which will be a pain.

Then I’m getting a Drobo to replace the mess on my desk (currently backordered). This will provide an extra level of data protection with its RAID like abilities while replacing these 4 drives. The new Drobos include FireWire 800 ports so I’m expecting to be able to run my VMs off them the same way I run them off my MyBook now. I’ll probably also move most of my data to it (from my internal iMac hard drive) for the extra protection. Since OS X just see the Drobo as an external drive I should be able to use if for a bootable clone, although I may drop that from my backup scheme. The Drobo can handle four drives and subtracts an amount equal to it’s largest hard drive from the available space for data protection. So four 1TB drives would provide 3TB of useable space, which can grow over time as larger capacity drives become available.

So Long MobileMe

MobileMe box graphicJust before the .Mac to MobileMe conversion I received an e-mail that my .Mac account was up for renewal in August. I’ve already gone in and set it to not renew. MobileMe still doesn’t work reliably for me on either of my Macs. Apples inability to service existing customers during the planned conversion has soured me on the service. .Mac had been going well and if it wasn’t for the MobileMe fiasco I probably would have renewed as  the path of least resistance. Instead it’s time to make sure I have replacements for everything I use on .Mac (now MobileMe).

I use iDisk to share files between my Macs and provide an adhoc backup. I have iDisk set to sync to the local hard drive. My disk usage is currently 1.7GB. SugarSync seems like a good replacement and works the same way I use iDisk but has added features. I just signed up for the 45 day trial. A 10GB plan which would handle my past iDisk usage is $2.50/mth ($25/yr). There are higher priced plans of course.

I use Yojimbo as an information manager and use .Mac to sync the data between my PCs. Even before the MobileMe fiasco I was looking at Evernote as a replacement for Yojimbo. For me, it’s proving to be a good replacement for Yojimbo with the added benefit of multi-platform support and web access. There’s a free version but I just went ahead and upgraded to the premium plan so with or without MobileMe Yojimbo was heading for retirement.

The lack of keychain syncing will also be a loss to me because I use 1Password to manage passwords and it uses keychain syncing to keep things in sync across my Macs. While I could copy the 1Password keychain file between Macs (or place it in a shared location) this wouldn’t be ideal since both Macs may have 1Password open at the sme time. So I figure I’ll lose 1Password sync.

I have a couple other apps that use .Mac to sync – TextExpander and Transmit. TextExpander is a typing shortcut utility and the lack of syncing will be a minor annoyance but not so much I’d look for an alternative. Transmit is FTP client and the syncing is used to sync favorites, not something I’ll miss.

I like the Safari bookmarks syncing and Safari was my Mac browser of choice until Firefox 3 came out. Now Firefox 3 is my default browser so the lack of Safari bookmark syncing isn’t a problem.

Calendar sync is nice but I mostly use the calendar on my iMac anyway. Same with the address book. I do like syncing preferences although there have been times that’s been a problem. I’ll just have to get used to having to configure apps on each mac again.

I don’t use Mail, .Mac Websites or the .Mac galleries so there’s no need for me to find replacements for those.

While I still have time (27 days) to change my mind, today I abandon MobileMe and spend my time getting it’s replacements going rather than continuing to fight with the service.

Fail: Windows Home Server System Disk Replacement

Back when I wrote an article about replacing Windows Home Server data disks I received some comments about replacing the system drive. At the time I didn’t think I’d be replacing the disk anytime soon since there was little benefit. The drive is used last for data storage so it would be easier and more beneficial to expand the data drives. In my mind having the OS on a separate drive from the data but would provide better performance, at least in theory.

Events changed and I needed another drive to store some files and I figured replacing the WHS drive with a newer drive that also consumed less power would be worth the effort. In short, the upgrade failed and I’ve decided the effort now outstrips the benefit. I figured I’d relay my experiences. Also, if the drive fails I’ll probably be in the same situation so I’ll probably do some research and try again sometime in the future.

First the good news. I put the original drive aside and popped it back in when I threw in the towel. The server came up fine – as if nothing happened.

When I ran the Server Recovery Disc using autorun I had several problems. The first noticeable problem was an empty license dialog. I had to run the the WHSRecovery.exe directly and then the install ran OK.

On Windows Vista the Server Recovery portion worked fine but when the WHS Connector software install should have started nothing happened. I suspect it has something to do with UAC or security but rather than troubleshoot I went to Windows XP.

On Windows XP everything seemed fine until the Windows Home Server Connector software installation. That install couldn’t find my server. I had similar problems during the initial installation but the things that worked there didn’t work here. The Server Recovery has worked for me in the past. After popping the original disk back I was able to install the connector software just fine. In my case the computer and server were in the same switch and one the same network. I could ping the WHS just fine (I could get the IP address from the mac address), the connector install just wouldn’t find it.

Eventually I’ll set up a simple network with just the WHS and one PC and work on troubleshooting the issue.

If you’ve got an HP MediaSmart Home Server the instructions for replacing the system disk are here. Keep in mind that user accounts will be lost along with other server configurations. If you use file duplication you shouldn’t lose any files.

This isn’t a high priority for me but if I find a solution I’ll update this post.

Windows Activation

I finally had to use the telephone Windows Activation process today. My Windows XP Home Edition (yea, it’s old) install had finally gone through enough changes that it wouldn’t activate via the internet. The problem was relatively painless. I called an 800 number (at least here in the US). It was all voice automation. I answered a few yes/no questions and read a rather long number that was displayed on the activation screen. More yes/no questions then I typed in a rather long number that was given to me.

The number entry was rather tedious but not really a problem. The voice automation worked well. My only problem was in the instructions that followed the number entry. The attendant would pause between the instructions and if I spoke (since I already knew the command) it wouldn’t understand and would repeat the instructions. So I just needed to be patient.

MobileMe: New Name but Old Problems

MobileMe box graphicApple may have given .Mac a new name, but it’s returned the service to it’s old ways. Way back when I started with .Mac it was unreliable, so much so I didn’t renew. I signed up again just under a year ago and it’s been pretty reliable since then. But the conversion to MobileMe has been a disaster for current .Mac users. There a several long threads in the support forums.

This morning my iMac received it’s update for MobileMe. During the upgrade my local iDisk as deleted (luckily a copy was made). Since the upgrade I’ve been unable to login to MobileMe through the preferences pane. It returns an “Unknown validation error”. Others in the forum report the same problem. While I do have the iDisk files that were in the backup, iDisk itself is unavailable. If I didn’t sync iDisk locally the files would be unavailable.

For most of the day I was also unable to login to the me.com website. Most of the time I’d simply get redirected to a info page that didn’t even provide a login link. Finally tonight I was able to logon through the website (so at least I know the ID/password are valid). But even though I could logon performance was spotty and eventually I got kicked out.

My iMac hasn’t been presented the update for MobileMe although it did get the iTunes update. I’m not sure if this is because Apple is holding back or some other problem. Others have reported the same thing and some have said Apple pulled the update but that could be the same speculation I was making.

For a paid service doing a planned upgrade I would think Apple could do better than cause a day long outage for existing customers. Just when I was thinking I could trust the service Apple sends a dose of reality. I realize this was probably a complicated upgrade but that’s no reason to lower expectations.

[Update July 11th: I’m able to logon through the pref pane this morning. All my sync settings are gone and I’ll have to reset them. I also can’t access my iDisk. I can see my iDisk through the web but can’t download any files.]

[Update #2 July 11th: I’m now able to access and copy files from iDisk using my Mac.]

[Update July 12th:My iMac had MobileMe 1.1 waiting for me this morning. I still haven’t installed it. Syncing still hasn’t worked for me on the iMac but maybe this will fix it. My Macbook hasn’t gotten the iMac update and when .Mac syncing kicked off today there were lots of errors.]

[Update #2 July 12th:Still more problems on my iMac which still hasn’t gotten MobileMe 1.1 and fails to sync. My MacBook with MobileMe 1.1 seems better. In any case, I’ve decided to abandon MobileMe so this will be my last update.]

Apple TV 2.1 Released

Apple released Apple TV 2.1 today which includes support for MobileMe and a new Remote Control app for the iPhone/Touch that will be available in the App store. It also contains several security updates.

I updated without a problem or anyt noticeable change. MobileMe has been down and I don’t have an iPhone/Touch.

WHS Add-In Updated: Windows Home Server Disk Management 1.0.8.6

Windows Home Server Disk Management, my favorite and most useful add-in for Windows Home Server, has been updated. My previous version was 1.0.7.3. Functionally there’s not much that’s different, but but the enhancements improve an already fine add-in. Like other add-ins I’ve used, the old version must be uninstalled before the new version can be installed. In general the settings are saved but in this case the server wireframe (diagram of disk usage) had to be re-created. This was documented on the download page which also provides templates that came be imported for HP MediaSmart and Scaleo servers.

Among the new features I like is the ability to set the alert thresholds for disk usage. My biggest annoyance was that disks were shown in yellow when above 75% usage and in red when above 90%. Since disk usage is managed by WHS itself and there’s nothing I can do about individual disk usage I disliked having the yellow or red bars which usually indicate a problem when I had an otherwise healthy disk. There’s also new thresholds for total disk pool usage which is is more useful than individual usage.

If you’ve installed the WHS PP1 beta you should use the WHS Disk Management beta which you’ll have to request. In my case, the WHS data is too important to trust to the beta software even though it should resolve the data corruption bug.