Categories
Microsoft Windows

Microsoft Windows RT Is Coming–Get Ready

Picture of fireworksWe’re just over a week away from Microsoft’s Windows 8 launch on October 26th. Windows RT and Microsoft Surface RT are part of that launch party. Eventually I’ll get around to a Windows 8 upgrade, but for now it’s Windows RT that I’m excited about and will it’s what I’m preparing for during the next week.

I’ve pre-ordered a surface RT tablet but that’s because I’m a gadget geek and I like new tech to play with. I imagine most people need more than curiosity to justify a Windows RT tablet purchase. If you’re wondering if a Windows RT tablet is right for you, or if your curious but smarter than me and wanting more info before opening the wallet, here are a couple useful resources.

SurfaceGeeks.net is a website, podcast and community for all thing Surface and Surface like. It’s not restricted to Microsoft Surface or even Windows RT. There’s already forum sections for Samsung and Asus hardware along with a sections for Windows Phone 8 hardware and software. You’ll find me in the forums as OSQuest. Head on over, join in and say hello.

WRTQuest.com is a a completely self-serving item on this list. It’s a new website I’ve started for my Windows RT chronicles. This will be more stream of consciousness than planned out articles and topics. I install a new app – I immediately create a post and update it over time. I’ll also be writing about whether or not the Surface RT can replace my iPad. Not whether it can be an iPad replacement, just if it replaces mine and why or why not.

Then there’s the usual suspects. Paul Thurrott’s WinSuperSite.com always has good info.

Digital Media Zone has a chart comparing what’s know about Windows Tablet. That’s just a sample of the links found on the Surface Geeks forum, so now that this article is over, head on over for more info, things are just getting started,

Categories
Microsoft Windows

Microsoft Suface RT

Surface with Windows RT graphic
Graphic from Microsoft.com

Microsoft finally announced pricing for their Surface RT tablets. The base model, sans keyboard cover is $499. It’s $599 if the cover is included. The 64GB model, with a cover is $699. The Type Cover, which is a more traditional keyboard is a $130 add-on. Comparisons to the iPad prices is inevitable, and also pointless (in my opion of course). If you’e trying to decide between them you should look at features and what you want to do with it. The price will probably be comparable when you’re done. I also suspect if you’re trying to decide between Surface and iPad you should probably go with the iPad.

So if that’s my opinion why am I considering the Surface RT? Did I say considering? Let’s face it, my decision to get one is all but finalized despite already having a iPad.

  1. I’m looking for some tech I can get excited about. Windows Home Server is at a dead end. I’ll have mine for a long time, but it will be boring (and hopefully reliable). I’ve no desire to move up to Microsoft’s “real” servers. And that decision was made without even considering cost, it would be too much like work. So I’m looking at Surface RT to be both different and exciting.
  2. The last PC I bought, a Dell laptop, was a lousy out of the box experience thanks to Dell’s “services” and crapware. I vowed if I ever bought another PC that I’d go with Microsoft’s Signature line where they remove the crapware. I’ve already read some oem’s offering their own services with the tablets. I equate that with crapware until proven otherwise. I view the Surface as a clean reference design.

So those are the two reasons I’m considering the Surface RT. How do I think I’ll use it?

  1. Let’s face it. I already mentioned the primary reason – I hope it’s something I can get excited about. This reason alone isn’t going to make it a best seller at these prices.
  2. It has a full office suite (no Outlook) and a attached physical keyboard. There’s potential there. The lack of extended hands-on reviews means the keyboard cover may fail to meet expectations. I currently carry my iPad to work daily, I expect the Surface to replace it.
  3. I’m hoping the Surface is so good that I can sell my iPad but that remains to be seen.

Now that pricing has been announced I’m less optimistic about success assuming success is defined by units sold. The price is definitely a speed bump and I hope the oem’s will step in to market lower price models. But with the oem’s a lower price will mean lower quality. Microsoft had an incentive to sell at cost, the oem’s need to profit on each unit sold. Or maybe Microsoft will offer some sort of promotion to get large quantities into the enterprise. If they offer some sort of oem incentive for consumer sales they’d upset Surface buyers. Then there the apps issue. While the built-in apps are nice and the Office Suite differentiates it from the iPad, there need to be some apps. Sure, maybe the key apps are enough to start with but there needs to be more.

Anyone else have a Surface RT in their future?

Categories
Quick Bits

iPad/iOS 6 Wireless Sync

Screenshot of my main iPad screenEver since upgrading my iPad 3 to iOS 6 I haven’t been able to do a wireless sync with iTunes. My iPhone 4S does a wireless sync just fine. I tried the usual troubleshooting things such as restarts and re-entering settings. I was pretty sure it was my iPad or iTunes that was the problem. The iPad also had a problem where the wireless network would drop every couple of days and I’d have to toggle wireless off then on (on the iPad) to get it to see the network so the iPad was my first choice as the problem source. I don’t use iTunes very much with my iPad so I wasn’t aggressively looking for a fix (my opinion of iTunes is that it’s a big ball of bugs and frustration).

I was listening to the McCast podcast (Oct 5th episode) when Adam mentioned a step I hadn’t tried. While he described a different wireless issue it was close enough. And sure enough, his suggestion to reset the network settings worked.

To reset the settings: Settings -> General -> Reset -> Reset Network Settings

The iPad will restart after confirmation. I did not have to re-enter my wireless network security settings so I expected to still have the problem. But sure enough, I was able to initiate the sync and it completed without a problem. It’s too soon to tell if the problem dropping the wireless network every couple of days is also fixed, but I’m hopeful.

For the record, I run iTunes on a Mac and OS X, iTunes and my iPad are all  on the latest versions.

Makes me glad that the MacCast is the one Apple specific podcast I still listen to on a regular basis.

 

Categories
Gadgets

iOS6 Upgrade

Picture of the Verizon iPhoneUnless you’ve been on a desert island you know iOS6 is out now.

I upgraded both my iPhone 4S and iPad 3 on Thursday. While not completely uneventful it was relatively smooth. There were related Mountain Lion and Apple application upgrades on my Macs. In my case, it was iPhoto and Aperture that were upgraded. It took most of the evening to get everything upgraded although most of that was spent waiting, either for downloads or installs. I updated my iDevices directly, over wireless, rather than through iTunes. There’s also been a steady stream of iOS app upgrades since then.

So far I only had one real app problem, the UPS app crashed when trying to paste in tracking numbers. But that was fixed a couple days later with an upgrade.

My most serious problem is that my iPad 3 can no longer sync to iTunes over wireless. It just says it can’t find the computer when I tell it to sync. Of course, other apps can see the computer and transfer files to and from it. And my iPhone syncs to iTunes just fine. I’ve done the normal troubleshooting (reboots, re-enter settings, try a second wireless network, etc…) but haven’t dug into it. I don’t sync too often. iCloud backups work just fine.

Apple’s taking a lot of grief over the new Maps app. Based on the examples given it appears justified. The U.S. maps seem better than the rest of the world. They have the street I live on, they just don’t extend it as far as my house. Of course, my street closely parallels a second street once it reaches me, separated by a line of trees. The local directions seem fine. I already have another app I use for turn-by-turn so I haven’t tried the built in maps app for that. I never really used the old Google Maps app very much so the change is mostly unnoticed by me.

I like the “Do Not Disturb” feature, although I already keep most notifications off all the time anyway. I do wish there was a way to allow certain apps to alert all the time. Similar to the way “Favorite” callers aren’t blocked by DND. Guess we have to leave something for Apple to add in iOS 7.

The new Passbook started off by annoying me. It bumped an icon off my home screen to make room for itself. Then it didn’t properly link to the iTunes store  (which was the only action it would try to do) until I did this fix. Once I got into it I was underwhelmed by needing to install each vendors own iOS6 app to use passbook. The only other way to get info into Passbook was a 3rd party website. While it’s probably OK, the security implications limit its use.

I liked the clock app, especially on my iPad where it easily shows multiple times across the world. But I knew the clock face looked familiar.

I never found much use for Siri. I was more frustrating than useful. Being able to open apps by voice is a nice addition. Of course, the apps have to be pronounceable and real words, which isn’t always the case. (I’m looking at you Waze.) I may give Siri another tryout.

I can’t say I have an desire to get the iPhone 5. Sure, its better than th 4S that I have, but not so much better. The only hardware feature I would want is LTE, but for what I use the iPhone for now it’s not a big deal. My iPad has LTE so I can tether to it in a pinch. I also tend to do more web surfing on the iPad rather than the iPhone. My contract is up at the end of November which may be a good time shop for a phone. I’m not ruling out the iPhone 4S but it will be a tough sell. If I decide to stick with the iPhone I may just stick with the 4S for another year.

Anyone else upgraded to iOS6? How’d it go?

Categories
OS Quest Trail Log

The OS Quest Trail Log #75: End of Summer Edition

Beach pictureThis Labor Day holiday marks the unofficial end of summer here in the U.S. August was another month of updates, but nothing truly new.

Upgrades

Amazon started off the month with updates to their consumer cloud offerings. They split the cloud music player off from their cloud file storage. With the exception of deals for exiting customers, the change resulted in a overall price increase for users of both services. Some of the special offers of free or added space also began to expire, requiring a new subscription. This results in some increased costs, depending on the deal you were previously on. I wonder how many people took the same approach as I did and cut back their subscription level.

I had problems with the first August update of the Music Uploader for Windows. I reported the problem and submitted logs. I received an email a couple days letting telling me their was a new version which should fix my problem. I never installed it. The Cloud Music Player just never struck a chord with me.

Amazon also announced their Glacier file archiving services. This caused a lot of speculation that backup services would begin to use it. I don’t think I’ll be joining that bandwagon. The pricing is complicated but seems targeted to archiving, rather than backups. It seems like a full restore could be fairly expensive. It also look like deleting files too soon after they’re added results in some added costs (in other words, a penalty charge). The files I would consider putting there are already stored with CrashPlan and I see no reason to move them somewhere else.

My favorite update of the month was Synology DSM 4.1 which was released as the month came to an end. I’d been using the beta since its release earlier this month, so I updated on the day of release. I like Photo Station and have moved to it as a photo organizer. I don’t use the online editors and I do wish I could open the files in a local editor. But I’m used to organizing my photos in a folder structure and don’t do a lot of editing so this hasn’t been a huge burden.

Another successful upgrade was OS X 10.8.1 which fixed my problem browsing for Windows (SMB) shares that appeared with the original Mountain Lion release.

Security

Security was in the news this month. Lessons learned included customer service is a weak link and backups are a lifesaver. I did a bit of security review and strengthened some older passwords. I’ve been using LastPass since soon after it appeared on the scene. I use it to generate complex, unique passwords for each site and save them  At the risk of jinxing things, I think I’m in pretty good shape.

As if to remind me, CrashPlan and Cloudberry backups stopped working recently but CrashPlan was nice enough to let me know it missed me after a couple of days and I was able to get things going again. Local backups were working during this time.

September

September promises to be the calm before the storm of new releases in October. While the bits are finalized, Windows 8 won’t see an official release until October, as will Windows Phone 8. Personally, I’m more curious and excited about Windows 8 RT. Curious is probably the better word. I think Windows RT is Microsoft’s vision of a future computer and Windows 8 Intel is a bridge to get there. I’m not sure I’ll like it, but I want to see and use it.

I’ve started a new website, with fountain pens as a topic. I’m still working on it so no link yet. I’ve taken a different approach. After working on a design for months I decided I needed constraints. I like working out the technical details, but it’s one rathole after another. All fun, but not getting closer to a working website. So I decided to build it on WordPress.com. I’m familiar with WordPress and can migrate it to this server in the future should I want to. But for now I only have to worry about content and a few design decisions. I’ll probably be spending most of my available time in that area, rather than technology projects, but we’ll see.

 

Categories
OS Quest Trail Log

The OS Quest Trail Log #74: New Software Edition

The Future Is Now graphic

July brought a lot of new software even though it was a slow month as far as the post count goes. The beginning of the month was all Synology. Soon after I started looking at some of the Synology apps (not impressed) Synology released the DSM 4.1 beta and I’ve been running that ever since. But not to be forgotten, Apple released Mountain Line (OS X 10.8) and I installed it on my MacBook Air. Sandwiched between those events was Microsoft’s Public Preview for their latest Office Suite. I decided to give Office 365 Home Premium a look.

Like the earlier DSM 4.0 beta which was released shortly after I bought my first Synology NAS, the DSM 4.1 beta has been stable for me. I don’t use a lot of the features, sticking with file storage as it primary purpose. It’s been fine as an iSCSI destination along with basic file  shares. I have been using Photo Station and like it, although I’m still trying to figure out exactly what role it will fill.

Mountain Lion has also been stable on my MacBook Air. I’m still unable to browse my Windows Home Server for shares but can connect to them directly. As I’m writing this my Mac Mini Mountain Lion upgrade just finished and it too has the same share browsing problem. And like the Air, the Mini can browse shares on my Windows 7 machines and the Synology NAS. So I’ll have to plan some time on that problem although I’m not the only one with the problem according to this forum post. I suspect I’ll wait until the first Mountain Lion update to see if it’s resolved then.

I’m still not sure what to think about Mountain Lion. It continues the trend of computers becoming part of an ecosystem. While it’s not real lock in, the Gatekeeper security feature and iCloud file system make the ease of use a tempting benefit, but it erodes interoperability. I don’t think Apple’s goal is lock-in, I just think it’s a side-effect of their ease-of-use goal. My own history with Apple’s cloud services makes me hesitant to commit to the iCloud file system but I am giving it a try. I’m just dipping my toe in – a year from now I may find a better app and find I need need a forklift to get a years worth of data out of iCloud.

Out of all the new software I have to admit that Office 365 Home Premium (and the whole new Office product line) intrigues me the most. I’m skeptical, and expect disappointment, but Microsoft may have done it right this time. And at the right price it may be something I subscribe to personally. I like that SkyDrive is the cloud file system and unlike iCloud it’s easy to get the files out (just sync to a local disk) and do my own backups.

I used the Office 365 Blog template for my previous post. It’s clearly an attempt to replace Live Writer which I still prefer. Word did more than I expected. What I expected was a simple template. Instead it provides blog specific features and can publish the post (or a draft of it) to the blog. The bottom line for me was Live Writer had more polish but the Word blog template has promise.

Which new software are you excited about – Windows 8, Mountain Lion, DSM 4.1, Office, Microsoft’s new servers, none of them?

Categories
OS Quest Trail Log

The OS Quest Trail Log #73: Media Edition

Picture of a sunset over the waterIt was all about media on the quest this month. First I covered my tools for Blu-Ray ripping – MakeMKV and Handbrake. I finished going through and ripping the few Blu-Rays that I do have using the same method outlined in the articles. I lowered the Handbrake quality a bit on some to get a smaller file. I still don’t see myself getting a lot of Blu-Ray discs, but it does give me more flexibility with the ones I do get.

Then it was on to music in the cloud. At the time I wrote the articles I had settled on iTunes Match. I’m going to have to go back and update these articles. iTunes Match is history, It made a complete mess of smart playlists, especially on iDevices. The good new is that turning it off and everything was nearly back to normal. The only remaining issue was that many songs had their play count set to 1 (not zero). This was rather bizarre. It was most noticeable because I have a playlist that includes songs played just once. That list went from empty to over 300 songs. There were plenty of songs I knew had played many times although I’m at a loss as to why the play count is back to 1. It could be a lot more counts are off, just not as obvious.  So for now I have iTunes Match disabled everywhere. At least I got the DRM removed from my older iTunes purchases, but I probably won’t be renewing.

Amazon Cloud Player had its own problems. The iOS app wouldn’t display a complete list of songs available on the web cloud player. For example, a recently purchased album that Amazon automatically added to the Cloud Player showed 3 songs on my iPhone and 9 on my iPad. There were a total of 12 songs on the album. This wasn’t unique to purchases as any artist I checked had some missing songs on the device.

Google Play Music is the only one that hasn’t caused me any problems. Then again, I haven’t used it beyond some simple testing. I did have one unexpected problem. Unlike the other players it does support .flac files. For the CDs I ripped I have both MP3 and FLAC files in the same directory. The other players simply ignored the FLAC files. After Google got done uploading I noticed I had duplicates of everything. I couldn’t find any way to tell which song was which format so I deleted everything and I’ll re-upload just the MP3 files. I don’t see any reason to stream the larger FLAC files from the cloud. Although I want to do some research or testing to see if Google transcodes the FLAC files when streaming.

I have to say, Google seems to have the more reliable and solid tech in their web player. While I wouldn’t call it feature rich, it includes features that Amazon doesn’t: Instant Mixes, Play Counts, Thumbs up/down ratings along with a more flexible uploader. I may change my opinion once I actually look at using it. I’m still working on re-uploading the music. Like I mentioned in the article, I have a lot tied to my Google account so it’s not something I want to enter into a 3rd party app, so the lack of an official iOS app is a problem.

Tablets From the Source

Microsoft had a big news month and got a lot of positive spin. Although, their Slate announcement seemed to create more questions than it answered. Hopefully it lives up to the heightened expectations. It will be nice to have some competition and options for Apple. If nothing else, the MS Slate should be lacking the crapware prevalent in Windows OEM and Android devices.

Google also announced a 7” tablet that’s got the Kindle Fire in its sights. It seems promising. Hopefully the new version of Android will be tablet friendly. The few Android tablets I’ve seen appear to have an identity crisis trying to decide between a small or large display. Hard to put my finger on anything specific, but the just seemed “off”. iOS apps which can have distinct personalities depending on the hardware. I have to admit I find it tempting even though I can’t justify it.

One thing I found interesting was the hue and cry over Microsoft usurping their OEMs while I didn’t hear much complaints about the Google Nexus 7 despite Google saying they’ll sell it at a price to break even on the hardware absorbing any marketing and miscellaneous costs.This despite Google owning a Android hardware vendor (Motorola) and other OEMs using Android.

I’m not predicting any decline for Apple, but it looks like I’ll be able to consider alternatives when it’s time for my next phone and tablet. This can’t be a bad thing.

Wrapping UP

Looking at the various cloud players has go me into playing music more than I had in the recent past. For the most part it had been audio books and podcasts but I’ve been playing music again. I’m finally getting around to trying out the media related apps on my Synology DiskStation. It’s still to early to tell if they’ll be worth using. Then for true cloud music there’s always the subscription services.

So far nothing has been perfect. It will be more a matter of figuring out what I want and then picking the solution strongest in that area. The summer heat seems like it’s here to stay for awhile. Those hot humid days will be good for laying around listening to music, or staying in the air conditioning working at the PC.

For those of you in the States, have a happy 4th!

Categories
Gadgets

My iPad Goes Naked

iPad SmartCoverStephen Foskett has the iPad Smart Cover as #7 in his “Ten Terrible Apple Products” post. The timing coincided with my decision of the previous weekend that my iPad should go coverless. I’ve had a Smart Cover on my iPad 2 since I got it and kept the cover with the iPad 3 (aka iPad). I never really thought about it, but I was used to it. It was getting grungy and was having a harder time than usual holding up my iPad. I was planning a weekend trip to the Apple Store for a replacement.

Then as I was packing up for work I finally asked the obvious question. Why? I was packing the iPad, with Smart Cover attached into another sleeve for protection. The sleeve was needed because otherwise the Smart Cover would come off. Turning the iPad on, or worse, scratching it with the hinges. So that’s when I threw out the Smart Cover and started using just the sleeve.

The Smart Cover was never a very stable stand, it worked, but didn’t inspire confidence and would tip over in a slight breeze. So I long ago started using a generic tablet stand. Cheap enough to keep one at work and a couple at home. The stands themselves are less than five bucks although that typically doesn’t include shipping.They’re not really portable, but they’re light and will fit in a bag.

I have the iPad Suede Jacket from Waterfield Designs. I have the one sized for having the Smart Cover attached. It’s a tight fit and the Smart Cover would slide off trying to put it in the Jacket. So while it’s technically now too big, I like the extra space and easy in and out. It does mean being careful when carrying it so it doesn’t slip out.

The only reason I could come up with to keep the Smart Cover was to prop up the iPad when typing in the horizontal position. But that never really worked for me. The angle wasn’t right and there was to much “give” as the cover would flex a bit while typing. I won’t get a full case because I dock the iPad each night and I don’t want to fumble with the cover.

The Suede Jacket doesn’t have any padding, which isn’t a problem when it’s in my bag to and from work. So far it seems to keep the cover cleaner than the Smart Cover. No ribs from the cover at least. I do also have a SleeveCase, also from Waterfield Designs, that does have more padding so I can use it if I go out with just the iPad or want some extra protection for it. Thankfully the iPads have gotten smaller, this is the same case from my first iPad. It rarely gets used so it will probably last as long as I keep buying iPads.

I’ve never used a case on my iPhone and I’ve never regretted that. The iPad just seems to want a case or cover. Seems logical for some reason. Despite that, I’m getting used to having a naked iPad.

Categories
OS Quest Trail Log

The OS Quest Trail Log #72: It’s Not All New Edition

Cog Railway EngineMay was a busy month on the quest. I  moved to a new web server and my Windows 7 desktop got a fresh new OS installation. But not everything was new. May is a big month for birthdays in my family, including my own. At 11, this month had the highest post count so far this year..

A comment got me interested (again) in using my Synology as a Time Machine backup destination. I’m still waiting to see how it handles some low disk situations. I found I couldn’t rush the testing. It appears Time Machine complains if it doesn’t have enough backup history and it runs out of space. It simply says to add disk. So I figure after running it a month I’ll start using up space again. I think it will work OK. I have had the occasional error that seems more like a regular time machine error than Synology specific. The next backup after the error has always worked.

I rebuilt my Windows 7 desktop early in the month. Things have been running nice and quick. I haven’t been installing software until I actually need it so there’s a lot less cruft on if.

I also went through a overall IT slimming down and reviewed what I was actually using. This was a good opportunity to clean up the “What I Use” pages on this site. I deleted the current “What I Use” sections and updated them with blog posts. The first was the iPad apps I use. There’s already been a change to that list (I updated the article). Mr. Reeder has replaced NetNewsWire as my RSS Reader on my iPad. Since I moved to a new web server it was a good time to document what I use for my web server. Then I wrapped up what I use within the house in Trail Log #71, which ran to about 2,000 words. (I need to cut back what I use even more.)

Web Server Move & Changes & Frustrations

I moved this site to a new web server this month. I’m still with Linode and it’s still a 512 MB VPS. But I switched to Debian 6 (“Squeeze”). I also made some configuration changes to Apache and PHP on the server. The biggest changes were the switch to MPM-Worker for Apache and mod_FCGID for PHP. Figuring out the configuration was a bit of a hassle but it’s been solid since the move.

As luck (or Murphy’s law) would dictate there were some problems with my Linode server and connectivity after the move. I’d been running the new VPS for about 6 weeks without having a problem. Then after the move there was a network issue for a couple hours during the evening of the 23rd. The server was fine, but inaccessible or experiencing timeouts. Then there was a planned software upgrade the evening of the 26th which required a reboot. While they weren’t specific it sounded like a security update, maybe to the Xen software. Then on Wednesday there was another reboot due to emergency maintenance.

To their credit Linode alerted me and had tickets open for the problems as quickly as my own alerting system (with 5 minute checks) alerted me. And when I logged on to the console there was a banner message telling me there was a known issue with my Linode and no need for me to reboot or take other action. They also explained the network issue (it was self-inflicted by a change) and they documented steps to prevent a re-occurrence. The server issue is resolved but no specific root cause yet.

Since things were going so well I decided to move ahead and try other new things. I started to dig into website performance strategies.  I added APC (Alternative PHP Cache) as an opcode cache. I also switched from WP-Supercache to W3 Total Cache since W3tc can use APC. I did some quick tests and found that W3tc and WPsc provided similar performance and features when using disk based page caching (make sense since they just create, not serve the static page). I like WP-Supercache a little better because it provides more visibility into what it’s doing. If I don’t use APC in conjunction with W3tc, or it provides minimal benefit, I may go back to WP-Supercache.

During the move I caused a self-inflicted Apache problem due to a syntax error in a logrotate file. I didn’t notice that until I saw that the logs were being rotated at the default settings, not my settings. That led me to continue squashing bugs and I went through the Apache error logs and start eliminating those frequent but inconsequential errors and warnings. I finally squashed Apache’s “file does not exist error” which had been filling the log but not affecting my site.

I just removed Google Analytics from my website, switching to the open source Piwik which I’ve been running for a few weeks.

I also removed the tweet and google+ buttons from each post. I never use them myself and I don’t know anyone who does. In my performance analysis they came up as being sub-optimal and targets for optimization. Now they have no impact on performance. Plus it’s creepy that those buttons can be used for tracking since I’m giving those companies carte blanche to put anything in the script that’s run from their server to display the button.

News That Interests Me

Comcast is rethinking there 250 GB data cap. The cynic in me says they’re looking for a way to collect more money from their customers. They wordsmith their press release too much, using words like “public internet”.  As for my own usage, the only times I ever bumped against the cap was when I refreshed my backups or was testing a new offsite backup service. In April I experimented and did almost all my “TV” watching through streaming video. Everything else was normal. I don’t have any kids and I don’t consider my TV/Movie viewing above normal. I hit 190MB of usage that month. The plans they’re testing seem reasonable, but I still don’t trust them. The data cap as a network management tool doesn’t hold water. I can go over the cap by only using my connection in the dead of night (and for backups that’s when I use it) and not affect their network. Or I can watch video during prime time when everyone else is, saturating their network, and stay well under the cap. Just admit that data cap is a way to get people who use their service more to pay more than people who use it less. This is especially true if their own Xfinity video on demand service, delivered over IP, doesn’t count against the data cap. No doubt that’s the reason they use the term “public internet”. Their Xfinity service never hits their definition of the “public internet”, even though it’s using the same infrastructure they use to provide ISP service.

When I read the headline that Google Chrome was “the most used browser” my initial reaction was “BS” before even reading the story. While the headline is catchy, trying to crown a winner is pointless. One analytics firm made the claim based websites that use their tracking code. While Microsoft is hardly unbiased, they rightly point out that Chrome pre-fetches web resources which may inflate stats. I don’t doubt the trend (Chrome up, IE down) but they’re not enough accuracy to justify the headline. As for The OS Quest in May (as reported by Piwik) – Google Chrome: 29%, Firefox: 28%, Safari: 24%, and IE: 16%. Looking at my stats it doesn’t appear Google Chrome’s numbers were affected by pre-fetching. I guess Google’s promotion of their browser on their search and other pages is paying off. In addition to being a nice browser. Google Chrome lost me as a regular user when they got rid of side tabs and I couldn’t find an add-in I liked to replace them. I liked Chrome, but I really want the side tabs. This happened at the same time Firefox made their browser more stable and able to handle the 35 tabs I currently have open without crashing or sucking up all the memory. So it was back to Firefox, despite their annoying upgrades.

June Plans

I’m still testing out different things on my Debian web server and will probably make a few more changes. My Mac Mini still has some disk performance issues so I’ll be looking at that and probably re-install everything like I did with my Windows 7 desktop. Then there’s Windows 8. It’s probably about time I install it to virtual machine and take a look. That should be enough to keep me busy.

Categories
Mac OS X Microsoft Windows OS Quest Trail Log Server and NAS

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.

Servers/NAS

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.

Software

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.