The OS Quest Trail Log #71: What I Use

I already covered what iPad apps I use along with what keeps this website running. Now it’s time for the big list. What I use in the home.


I have a bit of a problem with servers and accumulating hard drives in general, so this is a bit extreme. With fourteen 3 TB and another fourteen 2 TB drives spinning 24 X 7 it’s obvious I have a problem.

Windows Home Server 2011

An HP MicroServer running Windows Home Server 2011 is at the center of my home network. It has four 3 TB drives for data (no RAID) and a 160GB drive for the OS. It has an AMD N36L processor with 8 GB of RAM. The only add-in I run is Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server 2011 to backup to Amazon S3 and locally. I also use CrashPlan for additional offsite backup.

Small Business Server Essentials 2011

I also have a WD-DX4000 running SBS 2011 Essentials with a Lian-Li EX-502 Expansion Unit connected using USB 3. The DX4000 has four 2 TB drives configured for RAID 5 and the EX-503 has five 2TB drives also configured for RAID 5. Since this server has RAID to protect the Computer Backup shares it’s used for clinet backups. This server is also used for backups and long term file archiving/storage.

Synology NAS

I also have a Synology DS1511+ NAS with two DX510 expansion modules.  Currently this is used as a backup drive for my WHS 2011 server using an iSCSI connection. It’s also an iSCSI target for my WD-DX4000 for additional file archives. It’s also a destination for my Time Machine backups. Continuing the backup theme it handles backups from my web server.

I also have a DS212J NAS which has been relegated to testing and playing.

Desktop & Laptop Computers

Mac OS X

Measured by the time I use it, my primary computer would be my mid-2011 MacBook Air with Core i7 processor and 4 GB RAM along with a 256 Gb SSD drive. It runs OS X 10.7 Lion.

My desk has a late 2009 Mac Mini with a 2.66 GHz Core Two Duo, 4 GB RAM and a 320 GB hard drive. It’s connected to a old 20” Apple Cinema Display. I use Synergy to share the mouse/keyboard that’s on my Windows 7 desktop PC. It runs OS X 10.7 Lion.

Windows 7

My home built desktop is a Windows 7 Pro PC with with a AMD Athlon II x6 1090T processor and 16 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD drive. There’s also a 160 GB Velociraptor drive along with two 7200 rpm 1 GB drives. The SSD and Velociraptor are the primary drives while the 1GB drives are used primarily for Virtual Machines. Data is kept on my Windows How Server. For graphics it has a Radeon HD 6870 video card connected to a Acer H213H 21.5” monitor. I’ve been planning a monitor upgrade but never pulled the trigger. With two monitors on my desk going bigger would cramp things on my desk (or require wall mounts or stands) and I use the laptop more these days.

Portable, Mobile & Media Devices

My phone is a 64GB iPhone 4S on Verizon. I’ve been with Verizon as long as I can remember (my least objectionable telecom) and had an iPhone since there’s been one on Verizon. My iPhone is also my podcast and music player. I also have tethering on this phone.

I have an 64GB iPad 3rd Gen, also on Verizon. I only use the data plan a few months a year, such as when I’m on vacation or on extended business travels. Since tethering is currently free with the data plan I dropped my iPhone tethering for awhile to see if the iPad data was worth it. It wasn’t beneficial enough for me so I dropped the data plan and went back to iPhone tethering. I already covered the iPad apps I use.

I also have a Kindle Fire that’s mainly used for Video and short reading sessions. My Kindle Reader is used for longer, leisure reading sessions.

I have a LG BD670 Blu-ray player connected to my TV. It has built in wireless. I can view Amazon video using an app (bad, bad UI). There are other apps but I don’t use them. I can view video from my Windows Home Server over wireless or plug in a USB stick or drive.

The TV is a Vizio 42” TV that was inexpensive and works great. My only complaint is it’s annoying tendency to reboot when I’m watching something so it can apply a firmware update.

Home Network

My router is pfSense 2 running on an HP MicroServer. It’s reliable and I like it. This is connected to a HP ProCurve J9450A Gigabit switch. The switch supports link aggregation which I can use with my Synology 1511+ in addition to being a managed switch with a lot of features I’ll never need. It was the lowest cost Gigabit switch I found that did link aggregation and I’ve been happy with it’s performance.

For my wireless network I use a Netgear WNDR3700 router. I don’t use it as a router (since switching to pfSense), just a wireless access point. It’s dual band so I have a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz network set up. I use the 5 GHz network whenever possible since it’s less common and therefore has less interference from nearby apartments. I also have a D-Link DAP-1522 Wireless Bridge on my workbench so I can plug in non-wireless computers.

My ISP is Comcast. They’ve been reliable and performance is good. I’ve bumped against their data cap a few times thanks to backups but recent news has them finally re-evaluating the caps. It does seem that every time I actually have to talk to a person it causes a problem and an outage (new modem, moving, etc…) but luckily they’ve been reliable so I rarely have to talk to them.


Since I run both OS X and Windows I gravitate to cross-platform apps and web apps. I use Wakoopa to track what software I use.

Productivity & Communication

I use Google Apps for Domains for my email. On the Mac side I use Mailplane as my mail client since it can handle multiple GMail/GAFD accounts. On Windows I rarely access email but when I do it’s just through the browser. I do have old regular GMail and MS Live Mail accounts but they rarely get used.

My primary browser is Firefox. I like Google Chrome but have problems with it on OS X so tend to avoid it there and want to use the same browser on all platforms for consistency. I use LastPass to manage passwords and secure notes. I’ve been a LastPass user since the early days and subscribe to their premium service. LastPass works on all my browsers and iOS devices. I use XMarks (now owned by LastPass) to sync bookmarks.

I make occasional use of Skype and I do use Twitter.

I do install Microsoft Office 2010 on Windows but don’t use it too much. I prefer regular text files for documents (UltraEdit on Windows and BBEdit on Macs).

I use Windows Live Mesh to sync files between PCs and SkyDrive. Unfortunately it appears the new SkyDrive software loses the pc-to-pc sync feature of Mesh and that Mesh will be going away, I make heavy use of the pc-to-pc syncing feature to avoid unneeded internet traffic with large files. I also use Dropbox for a few iApps that can use it for syncing. I don’t using it for much else. I also have a Spideroak account that I want to like for cloud storage but it had problems syncing OS X package files (Bento specifically) so I haven’t trusted it on the Mac side.

My finance/checkbook app is YNAB (You Need a Budget) which runs on Windows and OS X. The data file stays on my server.

Backup & Security Software and Services

I use Amazon S3 for critical files. I pay less than $5/mth and my usage varies from 25 to 40 GB. Amazon is one of the few services I trust to not lose my files. They’ve been doing it awhile and they’re truly “cloud”, with the files stored across multiple data centers.

As already mentioned, I use Cloudberry backup for WHS 2011 and CrashPlan for backups of my WHS data.

For Mac backups I use Arq Backup which backs up to Amazon S3 using a Time Machine metaphor. It’s a well thought out, great piece of software. I don’t keep much data on my Macs so this is mainly for settings and when I travel with my latop. I also use Time Machine on my Macs with the Synology NAS as my destination.

I use Microsoft Security Essentials on my Windows PCs and nothing on my Macs. I use the NoScript add-in for Firefox and NotScripts for Chrome to limit what web pages can do. I also have a copy of MalwareBytes but that’s mainly because I’ve needed it for other PCs. For the most part I rely on safe computing habits rather than software for security.

Digital Media & Entertainment

I recently moved my music to the iTunes Match service. This also removed the DRM from my older iTunes purchases. I hate iTunes as an application but like it as a music manager. These days I mainly purchase music through Amazon but will still buy through the iTunes Store. All my music is in Amazon’s cloud storage as well as iTunes Match and Crashplan’s backup.

Video is either from my own DVD library or Amazon Online Video. I’m a Prime member so have access to their Prime Video library. For online video I’m generally looking for “something to watch” rather than something specific and Amazon Prime works for this. I only have basic cable (the real basic cable with over the air channels only) so I do buy videos I want through Amazon. I recently re-subscribed to the Netflix DVD service to expand my options. All this is still cheaper than a cable subscription.

VLC Media Player is my player of choice for Windows and Mac. I use Slysoft AnyDVD  along with Handbrake to rip DVDs from my library and encode them for playing on my various devices. I use Slysoft CloneDVD to make backups of my DVDs. I only do this for DVDs I own. This makes them more convenient to watch and protects me when a DVD goes bad (which they frequently do, especially the two-sided ones). It also makes it easier to store them since they can go in boxes and be stored in a closet.

For Photos I organize them using a folder structure and store them on my Windows Home Server. I use Picasa to manage them. For editing I use Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 on Windows. Amazon was offering a slight discount a couple days ago so I ordered version 10. It’s been three versions so probably worth the upgrade. On Macs I use Acorn. I still need a better way to manage my personal photos. I may give Lightroom a try since it’s cross-platform and Aperture isn’t.

Misc Apps

I use Sumatra PDF rather than Adobe’s Acrobat Reader. I also use Evernote for information capture and storage. I use Instapaper as my read later service and PinBoard as my bookmarking service.

I use LogMeIn for remote access. I have the paid account from my Windows Home Server and free counts everywhere else. I may not renew the paid account when it expires in June.

I use VirtualBox for virtual machines on Windows. I run several on my Windows 7 desktop. I use VMWare for virtual machines on my MacBook Air.

I’m about to break 2,000 words on this post so it’s time to wrap up.

2 thoughts on “The OS Quest Trail Log #71: What I Use”

  1. We have a simplified version of your setup. WHS, various macs, W7 PCs, and iphones. Currently having a frustrating time determining Best Practices in regards to iTunes database setup.

    Do you have all music on your WHS, and one iTunes library/playlist file that all your machines pull from?

    Thanks in advance. 🙂

    • @madronatree – I can’t offer much help. I do keep my iTunes library (and all related files) on my WHS. But I don’t really share it among computers. I can open it on multiple Macs (too many past issues with iTunes on Windows to even try), but not at the same time. I would also need to authorize each computer to play any DRM content. I rarely play music through iTunes itself. I also make sure to only sync my iDevices using one computer.

      – Ray

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