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.

The OS Quest Trail Log #17: A Virtual Week

This week was almost all about Virtual Machines on the Quest. Parallels released a couple of beta updates and eventually the final production release this week. My biggest complaint about Parallels was that the Windows task bar appears in every space even when Parallels is assigned to one space. But the more I used Parallels the less this was a problem. Not because I didn’t mind the task bar, but because I’m not using coherence mode. I run my VMs one of two ways, either full screen in the Space or in a window. I run Parallels on my iMac with it’s nice big 24″ screen. So it’s nice to have the VM on 2/3 of the screen and something else (like a video) on the other third. Or, I run the app full screen. So, with Spaces coherence mode is irrelevant, at least for me.

Windows Vista has taken a lot of bashing lately, some of it justified, but some of it seems like piling on. I haven’t seen anything in Vista that makes me just have to use it for that feature or application, but it also doesn’t seem like a terrible OS. I’m actually feeling sorry for Vista (is it possible to feel sorry for an OS?) If I was buying a Windows desktop today I’d get it with Vista (easy to say since I’m not getting one). There are reasons not to upgrade, just like there are reasons not to upgrade to Leopard. Not all app’s are Vista compatible. Not all app’s are Leopard compatible (I’m still waiting on SuperDuper!). I obviously don’t think Windows Vista is perfect since I’m a Mac user, but still, is it really as bad as they say? The marketing (how many versions? How much?) and some of the business decisions leave a lot to be desired, but the bits seem OK.

Well, I hope to spend more time in Windows (including Vista) over the next few months so maybe I can get an answer to that question. There’s some stuff that Microsoft is doing that seems really interesting. I’m writing this post in Windows Live Writer. I’ve been using it for about a week and will keep right on using it. It’s great. It’s free. There are some other app’s and services from the Windows Live team that are intriguing and I’ll be looking at when time allows.

Another Microsoft product that’s grabbed my attention is Windows Home Server. I’m so interested I went and ordered HP’s version as my year-end computer purchase. So I’ll leave further comment until I get my hands on it.

So, while Microsoft seems to be stumbling on the business and public relations side they can still put out good software.

Software Upgrades

There were some software upgrades this week. Yojimbo 1.5 was released. Some people reported problems with PDF imports on OS X 10.4.11 but I didn’t have any issues on Leopard. They said that the PDF’s were converted to plain text when imported. In addition to the enhancements I’ve noticed a significant speed improvement when using the internal search. The release notes mentioned that additional fields in Yojimbo were now indexed and searchable in spotlight. I’d never used spotlight to search Yojimbo but decided to give it a try. Nothing I searched for in Spotlight returned a Yojimbo item. I’m not sure if it’s broken on my iMac or I misunderstood or I’m doing something wrong. It’s not a real concern for me, I tried it out of curiosity and it’ll probably stay that way for awhile.

Panic Software also released Transmit 3.6.3. I’ve only been using it a couple of days so there’s not much to say that wasn’t in my original post. Still my favorite FTP client.

 

I updated to Path Finder 4.8.3 at the beginning of the week. It was mainly a bug fix release so not much to say here either. The Quick Look panel now passing arrow keys back to Path Finder is a help since there were one or two occasions where this annoyed me but that’s about it.

 

As previously mentioned at the beginning of this article, there were a couple updates to Parallels, including the official release. Now that Leopard is out and things are settling down I hope to be doing more in Windows and Linux so hopefully this will remain stable. I’ve been running it pretty regularly since it’s release, I’m in it now while writing this article.

Adobe Lightroom also got a minor update but I skipped this one. Even though I like Lightroom a lot there’s no way I can justify buying it. At least until I actually spend more time with my camera and get better at it. By that time everything will have changed. So even though there’s some eval time left I’ve bitten the bullet, moved everything out, and stopped using it. Still, be sure to take a look at Lightroom before springing for Aperture.

Visitor Stats

I updated my visitor stats over on the right sidebar. I started using Mint to collect the stats just prior to the release of Leopard and in the midst of my Leopard posts so I expected it to lean heavily to the Mac. I’ve still been mostly about the Mac so that hasn’t changed much. Mac visitors dropped two points and Windows visitors bumped up three points. The one percent difference is really just a rounding error since the previous total only totaled 99%. Safari usage stuck at 46%, while Firefox dropped by a point and Camino cut in half, down to 2%. Opera dropped off the chart and went under 1%. IE picked up two points and hit 15%.

Pretty useless information in the grand scheme of things, but I find it interesting anyway.

News & Links

There were a couple good articles about Leopard’s Time Machine this week. InfoWorld has one titled “How Leopard Time Machine works, and how it doesn’t” which is more of a technical overview. One important bit of information:

A distraught user might only be interested in the amount of data he may have lost:
If you accidentally deleted a file today, you lose up to an hour’s work
If you deleted it between yesterday and 30 days ago, you lose up to a day’s work
If you deleted it more than 30 days ago, you can lose up to one week’s work, or all of it

MacInstruct’s article is titled “Making the Most of Time Machine” and is more of a tutorial. If your using Time Machine you need to read both articles.

Other news and links:

BBC.co.uk: Microsoft trials XP on XO laptop – Microsoft is working to get Windows XO working on the OLPC (One laptop per child).

Bagelturf.com: Aperture: 32 Ways To Speed Up Aperture – Some tips for speeding up Aperture. Some are of the “more/better hardware” type but there’s some configuration tips too.

Endgadget.com: Seagate FreeAgent drives not down with Linux? – Lack of official support may be expected, but apparently the FreeAgent drives don’t like Linux. You’d think any USB drive would work but that’s apparently not the case here due to the power-save features.

Flickr.com: Edit your photos! On Flickr! – Like the title says, you can now edit your photos directly on Flickr

FOSSwire » Unix/Linux Command Cheat Sheet – One page Linux commands.

Lifehacker.com: Exclusive Lifehacker Interview: Quicksilver’s Creator on the Future of QS – Not happy news about the future of QuickSilver.

Lifehacker.com: Schedule Startup Programs with Startup Delayer – Freeware that can be used to delay programs that run during Windows startup.

MacSantaDeals.com: Great Deals On Hundreds Of Mac Products – 20% off of selected software for one day (new deals each day) and 10% off on extended deals. Through December 24th, 2007.

Microsoft.com: Windows Vista SP1 Guides for IT Professionals– Microsoft has posted info about Vista SP1 including a list of changes/fixes, an overview and deployment guide. Enough here to kill a weekend.

Suntimes.com: Kindle can light up your life – Andy Ihnatko likes the Kindle but not because he likes eBooks.

Supersite.com: Windows XP Service Pack 3 Release Candidate 1 Overview and Screenshots – Windows XP SP3 RC1 overview. Lots of fixes, no new end user features. Paul didn’t notice the speed improvement others mentioned but only upgraded one system.

TUAW.com: Pixelmator 1.1 adds new filters, tablet support and more – Pixelmator 1.1 for the Mac has been released. It’s a $59 image editing program that’s gotten a lot of attention. Although I decided Acorn was better suited for me so don’t use Pixelmator.

WinSuperSite.com: A Look at Windows Vista Service Pack 1 Release Candidate 1 – Paul Thurrott looks at Windows Vista SP1

WindowsVistaBlog.com : Announcing Windows Vista SP1 Release Candidate (RC) – Microsoft has made RC1 of Windows Vista SP1 available. If you install RC1 you’ll need to uninstall it before you can install a later version. They say they’re on target for a Q1 2008 release.

ZDNet.com: With SP1, Microsoft plans to ditch the Vista “kill switch” – ZDNet is reporting that Microsoft will kill the kill switch in Vista WGA with SP1 so it works like XP. They article also says that the “Get Legal” prices for Vista are less than many legitimate resellers. They seem comparable to OEM prices I’ve seen.

The OS Quest Trail Log #9

I spent the week dabbling in new software. Pixelmator is out of beta and available now so I looked at that. Still reminds me a lot of Photoshop Elements, lots of palettes. The so-called HUDs are really just transparent palettes. Both are nice but Acorn has more than I currently know how to use and the price is great ($40) so I decided to go with Acorn. Pixelmator is $59. I suspect they may keep leapfrogging each other in terms of features and ease of use and I doubt either would have been a bad choice. Eval versions are available for both. Jon Whipple has a comparison of Acorn, Pixelmator, iPhoto and Graphic Converter.

Also in the area of images, I’ve been using Xee. Xee is an image viewer & browser for the Mac. Xee opens up a directory and can be used to quickly scroll through all the images in that directory. Xee can also do some limited file management, conversions and can do a slide show. Xee is a free (donation-ware) app.

I’ve been using the MailPlane beta for a little over a week and now that pricing is available I just bought a copy of this great program. MailPlane is a desktop app that integrates with GMail on the web. It doesn’t move the mailbox locally, simply provides great integration. You can manage multiple GMail accounts in MailPlane which is a huge benefit. MailPlane also brings Mac Keyboard shortcuts to GMail, iPhoto integration and general ease of use. MailPlane has special pricing until the beta ends. Beta invites are still available.

I’ve also been looking a Mac software to do screen captures and demos. The two that pop to the top of the list are IShowU ($29) by ShinyWhiteBox and SnapZ Pro X ($69) from Ambrosia Software. Even though SnapZ Pro is more expensive it made a more favorable first impression. it also has more features and is able to do screenshots and movies. There’s eval versions of each. The iShowU eval adds a watermark to the videos. The SnapZ Pro X demo was used to make the video used for the tip father down in this post.

I’m still really liking the new Apple Aluminum USB keyboard after a full week of use.

Software Updates

Panic Transmit 3.6.1 contains several bug fixes. See the release notes for details. I use Transit to do some backups via Automator scripts. I always know when there’s a update because when I check the Mac in the morning the update notification usually causes the automator script to throw up an error. I could turn off update checks but I’d prefer an error one night over missing an update notification. I usually just make a note and tell Transmit to ignore it then do the update when I get a chance. As with any program that uses the keychain you’ll have to confirm access the first time the updated program runs. So, if you use automator scripts be sure to run the app after upgrading (wouldn’t you want to test it anyway?).

As already mentioned in this blog, there were several updates from Apple that I installed earlier in the week.

Tips

I was using Vista recently and went to do a “Start” -> “Run” to execute a program. In Windows XP I use the run box for everything from opening drives to running programs. So this was a problem that needed to be solved. There’s two ways around this. Use the <Windows key>-<R> key combo to display the run box whenever it’s needed (<Command>-<R> on a Mac under Parallels or VMWare) or change the setting to always display it on the menu. Here’s a QuickTime video tip showing how to change the run box setting.

Links & News

Microsoft’s stealth update doesn’t seem to be problem free. Windows Secrets is reporting that Microsoft’s secret update causes problems when doing an XP repair.

Apple had a bit of a manufacturing problem and shipped some MacBooks and MacBook Pros without Journaling enabled. They’ve released an update to remedy the situation.

Microsoft Home Server released an update a few days ago. Home Server seems like a really cool product, but is anyone selling them yet? Does seem like it’ll be a hard sell – a PC that sits off in a closet or someplace that you don’t actually sit at an use.

LifeHacker faced off Parallels and VMWare for Mac virtualization software to see which their readers voted for. The completely unscientific results have Parallels ahead with 53.4% of the votes. Another Lifehacker poll pitted Mozy against Carbonite. Mozy is ahead with 55.2% of the vote at this point.

Ars Technica has a good summary of Microsoft Vista Ultimate Extras fiasco.

1Passwd is available for 20% off through iSlayer. 1Passwd is a Password manager for the Mac. I don’t use it but I love the stuff iSlayer does (for free). They get a cut when it’s purchased through them so I figured I’d pass it along.