OS Quest Trail Log #81: What I Use – March 2014 Edition

I’m long overdue in updating what I use. This covers the hardware and software I currently and includes Macs, Windows and Synology devices and their related software.

Tools tile

It’s been over a year since I recapped what I use so it’s past time for an update. The timing is also good since I’m about to begin re-examing the way I do things and this will get me going. Not too much has changed in over a year, which means either what I use is pretty solid, or I’m complacent, or I’m lazy. I’d like to think it’s because they’re solid choices.

Server/NAS

Windows Home Server

It seems like there was always constant change in this area. So I was a bit surprised to see that not much has changed.

Even though Windows Home Server 2011 is a dying product it won’t drop off support in April 2016. My server has been solid and I don’t have any plans to replace it until I need to, or something clearly better for me comes along. It has four 3TB drives (no RAID) for data storage and a 160GB drive for the OS. It’s an HP MicroServer with a AMD N36L processor and 8 GB of RAM. The server is used primarily for video files and other files I want long term storage for but don’t use frequently. The only add-in is Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server 2011.

Synology NAS

Synology feature image tile - blackThings have been stable here too. My Synology DS1511+ NAS was reduced to 1 expansion bay and a total of ten 3 TB drives back in October 2012 and that’s where it still stands.

The DS1511+ is dedicated to backups. The WHS box does a backup to it using Cloudberry Backup via a ISCSI connected drive. It serves as a Time Machine backup destination for all my Macs. Until I retired my web server it backed up to the Synology NAS using rsync. My other Synology NAS boxes also back up to it.

The Synology DS212+ NAS that I added in May 2012 is still going strong. I did swap the two SSDs with two 500GB Western Digital Velociraptor drives in a Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). In this case the SHR is just a mirror. This runs my Synology applications and serves my critical data files from an encrypted share. Synology applications include CloudStation, Photo Station, Audio Station and Video Station, all of which have mobile apps.

My original Synology DS212J is still used for testing and experimentation.

Both the DS212+ and DS212J are run the latest DSM 5 beta which has been reliable. I need stability from the DSM 1511+ so it’s still on DSM 4.

Desktop & Laptop Computers

This is where there have been the most changes, and where the most changes are likely to occur in the near future.

Synergy is used for mouse and keyboard sharing between my desktops and the laptop when it’s at my desk.

Mac OS X

Black Apple logoMy MacBook Air was replaced just days ago with a late 2013 MacBook Pro. The MB Pro is a 13″ Retina Display with 16GB of RAM, a 2.4GHz I5 cpu and a 256GB SSD. While the CPU is a step down, I found I rarely needed the CPU horsepower but I was severely memory constrained. The Air maxes at 8GB and that wouldn’t have been enough for me.

My desk has a late 2012 Mac Mini with a 2.3GHz i7, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB Fusion drive. It was just moved to be front and center on my desk so it’s hooked to my primary monitor which is a Dell S2340T monitor. It also drives a second monitor, a Acer H223H 23″ monitor.

Windows 8.1

Windows LogoMy Windows hardware remains the same but now runs Windows 8. The drives have changes. There are now two SSDs in RAID 0 as a 500 GB system drive and two more SSDs as a 500 GB RAID 0 data drive. I recently added a 2 TB spinning drive for file storage. The RAID 0 (scary RAID) is provide by the on-board controller and has been surprisingly reliable. Backup is to the WHS server using the connector software. The ancient Apple 20″ Cinema Display is now attached to this Windows box and the universe hasn’t exploded.

Future Considerations

I moved the Mac Mini to be front and center on my desk, replacing the Windows 8 desktop because I’m considering going “all-in” with Macs as my desktops and laptops. Part of this is because I want to free up the desktop hardware for other uses. The desktop hardware is the most capable hardware I have for some server testing. It helps that I’m finding myself more productive on the Macs.

Portable, Mobile and Media Devices

My Windows RT came and went. I liked it, a lot actually. But it was still rough around the edges and I found I wasn’t using it much anymore. I may get a replacement in the future but for now it’s gone.

I still have the third generation iPad and also don’t use that very much. It never leaves the house. It’s primarily used for viewing videos from Amazon or from my Synology NAS. I also use it for viewing reference books on my desk through Kindle reader.

I have a Nexus 7 with AT&T wireless and this is the tablet that leaves the house with me. I ended up using very little AT&T data but I like having it available without needing to tether. I also gets a lot of use around the house. Except for Amazon it used the same way as my iPad. There are a few additional apps on it that I’ll cover in future posts.

Nokia Lumia 928 next to the iPhone 4SMy primary phone is an iPhone 5S on Verizon. I still have my Nokia 928 Windows Phone which is also on Verizon. I like the Windows Phone OS but the apps are frustrating. It’s not the lack of apps, but the quality. I don’t know if they’re buggy because they are hard to write or because not enough resources are dedicated to writing the apps. For example, I need to constantly bookmark the audio books in Audible because it frequently forgets where I am. The frustration drove me back to using the iPhone as my primary phone.

I have a Microsoft Wedge Mobile keyboard that I use primarily with the Nexus 7 although it works with the iPad and iPhone too.

You can see the iOS apps I’ve tried on Applr although I’ve only begun to review the apps and favorite the ones I like.

My TV is still the same Vizio 42″ and the DVD player is the same LG BD670. My TV viewing has changed from basic cable to a digital antennae for over the air broadcasts.

Home Network

I still run pfSense on an HP MicroServer and it’s still reliable. The HP ProCurve Gigabit Managed Switch that could do link aggregation was destroyed in a water pipe break and wasn’t replaced. Basic NetGear Gigabit switches are currently used.

The Netgear WNDR3700 router still does wireless duties. It’s dual band and I have both a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz wireless network. The 5 GHz network gets less interference so it’s the network of choice whenever possible. A D-Link DAP-1522 serves as a wireless bridge to my workbench.

My ISP is still Comcast and they’ve been reliable as long as I don’t have to talk to a person. It seems every human interaction requires a follow-up or three to fix a new problem. Luckily these interactions are rarely needed.

Software

I’m finding Mac apps are allowing me to be more productive. So I’ve been tentatively moving away from my focus on cross-platform apps. This has just begun so we’ll see where it leads.

Productivity & Communication

I use Google Apps for Domains for most of my email. I do use Microsoft Outlook.com for one heavily used email.

My primary browser is Google Chrome but I use Firefox too. With my emphasis on using OS X I just started trying Safari as my primary browser. It’s improved over my last attempt but the jury is still out.

LastPass is my password manager. I have a Microsoft Office 365 Home subscription and it’s my Office suite.

I have several cloud services but primarily use three of them. Synology’s CloudStation is my private cloud. There’s no Internet storage but all my devices can get back to my Synology NAS and sync over the Internet.

Microsoft OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) also gets a lot of use. My phone photos get saved to it automatically, my Office docs use it, and I use it whenever I do want offsite storage.

I use a free DropBox account for apps  that require it for syncing.

Amazon Cloud Drive and Google Drive haven’t caught on with me although I do use them in cases where they integrate well with an app or service.

My finance app has switched to Quicken. It’s the least annoying of my choices. This is mainly because it can easily do online updates of all my accounts. I’ve skipped this year’s upgrade and will consider alternatives again when support runs out with their 2015 release.

Backup & Security Software and Services

As I mentioned, I run the Cloudberry Backup on my Windows Home Server. It backs up to both offsite to Amazon Glacier and locally to my Synology DS1511+ NAS. For my Macs I use Arq Backup for offsite backup to Amazon S3 and Glacier and Time Machine for local backups to my Synology DS1511+ NAS. My Windows machines, both physical and virtual, use WHS backup. They don’t store critical data so there’s no offsite backup.

I also use CrashPlan on my Windows Home Server for redundant offsite backup.

I use Microsoft Security Essentials on my Windows PCs, including virtual machines. I use Malware Bytes on my main Windows PC. I don’t use anything on my Macs and rely on safe computing habits. I do use ScriptSafe and NoScript in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. I haven’t found a comparable add-in I like for Safari.

Digital Media and Entertainment

I dropped my Netflix subscription after it went unused for two months. I liked the online streaming and some of their exclusive shows but just didn’t use it.

Video is from my own DVD library or Amazon Online Video. My DVD library is ripped to files and sits on my WHS. I copy some video files to my Synology NAS to simplify viewing on my devices. I also use VLC Media Player for viewing. Slysoft AnyDVD along with Handbrake to rip and transcode my DVDs. MakeMKV is used on the few Blue-Rays that I have.

I have Amazon Prime and do view Prime Video. I also buy some TV series through Amazon Video which is considerably cheaper than a cable TV subscription.

My photo management is messy at the moment. I mainly use Aperture to organize and touch-up photos I’ve taken since they are raw files. JPGs and others usually just get saved in a folder structure. Synology Photo Station is used to manage and view pictures in those folder.

Misc Apps

Evernote is my primary information organizer. Pinboard is my bookmarking service. I no longer use Sumatra PDF for viewing PDFs, I find both the Windows and OSX native viewers fine for my needs.

LogMeIn is still my current remote access tool although the free version is going away. My free version extension is up in July and I’ll switch to something else before then.

VirtualBox runs my virtual machines. It’s free and good enough for my needs.

Path Finder is my file manager of choice on OS X. Transmit is my FTP client of choice and is also Mac only.

That about sums it up in just under 2,000 words. I suspect applications will be changing in the next few months but hardware should be pretty stable for the rest of the year unless things start breaking.