Entourage 2008 conspires to make me busy!

As if it isn’t bad enough that you’re rushed off your feet with appointments, now I have Entourage 2008 creating them out of thin air!

Ok, to be fair it’s getting a little help, in the shape of iCal, Google Calendar and Calgoo Connect. You see as I’ve mentioned before, my holy grail as far as calendars is concerned is to have each of the various calendars I use in sync. So for me that’s:

  • My work calendar, which uses Lotus Notes 8.0 on my laptop.
  • My Entourage 2008 calendar on my Mac.
  • My Outlook 2007 calendar on my PC, which in turn syncs with…
  • The calendar on my Windows Mobile smartphone.

All the time I kept Entourage on my Mac out of the loop, everything was fine and the other three calendars were in step, using Google Calendar as an intermediate step between Notes and Outlook (which are on different machines). So, ever the hopeful, and despite the warnings I’d read from various posts on the web saying it’s a recipe for disaster, I thought “Well how bad can it be?”. Ok, I’ll tell you how bad…

I downloaded a little java program called Calgoo Connect v1.9.0 and set it up to sync iCal on my Mac with my Google calendar. I chose not to use the highly respected Spanning Sync product, only because problems have been reported using it in the gCal-iCal-Entourage scenario, and ever the hopeful I wondered if a different product might be more successful. So, with Entourage 2008 already configured to sync automatically with iCal, it was just a case of installing and setting the new CalGoo connection. Configuring CalGoo Connect was really simple and within moments I was ready to sync. So here goes…


Well you can probably guess from this picture what happened. Instantly, various events were transformed not into duplicates, but QUADruplicates of themselves!! It was the same story in gCal, my calendar was suddenly full of repeat entries! Not to be defeated I thought I would delete all the duplicates from my Google calendar then sync again. Despite doing this, Entourage still managed to duplicate the entries. So, where Spring Bank Holiday appeared 4 times in both gCal and Entourage, I deleted all but one entry in gCal and sync’ed again, only to find it appearing twice in Entourage.

At this point I decided to do a little test. I created a new appointment in Entourage then sync’ed with gCal. Sure enough the new appointment appeared in Google correctly and only once. So far so good. I left it for about 15 minutes then without having changed anything I ran the sync again (the sort of thing that would happen anyway if your sync is done on a schedule). Entourage happily decided to duplicate the new appointment, even though Google was still only showing one occurrence of it.

Calendar mess

So where does this leave me? Well my suspicion is that Entourage attaches some data to a particular event that helps it to identify it, and that this data gets stripped off on the trip to Google. This means that when the connector next presents that event to Entourage having found it in Google, this identifying data is missing and Entourage thinking it’s a new appointment, creates the duplicate. The reason I think this is that the date, time and decription of the events are identical and yet Entourage is NOT seeing the entry as a duplicate suggesting that there’s some other matching logic or data that it’s using. Interestingly enough, iCal only shows the item once in this situation (which is correct).

So why isn’t it the fault of the connector, in this case CalGoo Connector? Well the connector is actually speaking to iCal which is simply acting as a proxy for Entourage in this case. I tested this out by creating an event in iCal and sync’ing it with Google calendar, twice. No problem, the iCal entry didn’t get duplicated.

My feeling now is that until someone comes up with a Google calendar connector that connects directly to Entourage 2008 and not via iCal, then this is going to be problematic. I have to wonder whether or not Microsoft are doing all they should be to enable this to happen? If there is other data connected to Entourage calendar entries that needs to be exposed via the relevant API, then let’s hope Microsoft are giving that information out, or are at least aware that there are many Mac users out there who would like to extend the reach of their Entourage 2008 calendar, without ending up booked solid with duplicated appointments to the end of time!

The alternative, which is starting to look more and more appealing, is to ditch the calendar feature of Entourage 2008 altogether and just use Google calendar instead. For corporate users tied to an Exchange server that wouldn’t be an easy choice, but as a ‘personal’ user it’s looking very tempting.

OS X 10.5.3 update

Every newsfeed I subscribe to seems to be carrying the story that Apple has released the 10.5.3 update for Mac OS X. So without further ado, here is my summary of how the 10.5.3 update went on my Mac Pro this evening…


There… hope you enjoyed it  😉

Can Entourage come and play today…?

I don’t mind admitting it.  I’m disorganized.  I make plans, agree meetings, promise I’ll do things, and with the best will in the world I have every intention of doing them… and then I get distracted. So, back in the days when Windows Mobile first appeared on mobile phones, I bought myself a SmartPhone and found that by plugging it in to my PC I could get the appointments, reminders, etc., out of Outlook 2003 and on to the phone. It felt great, being able to make appointments and then my phone or PC bleeping a reminder and the two always being in step.

Calendar SyncSince then a work laptop running Lotus Notes 8.0 has been added to the mix and I upgraded to Outlook 2007, and well to cut a long story short I now keep Lotus Notes, Outlook and my phone in step by using Google Calendar (gCal) and three nifty little connectors which work very well – CompanionLink for Google to sync Notes and gCal, Google Calendar Sync to sync gCal and Outlook, and ActiveSync to sync Outlook to my phone. Brilliant! Wherever I am I can now get my reminders or update my calendar and it will appear everywhere else… except on my new Mac!

Now I know you’re going to say there are tools out there that sync gCal to iCal, but a while ago I decided for better or worse to give Entourage 2008 a try. Ok, yes you can get Entourage to sync with iCal which could in turn sync with gCal, but I’ve read posts as recent as March this year saying that it’s a good way to end up with a corrupt calendar – for some reason the three of them won’t play in the same yard.

So that leaves me looking for somehing that will do bi-directional sync’ing between Entourage 2008 and gCal. Something that’s easy to set up and that works reliably, but so far there seems to be… well nothing that fits the bill. So is Entourage out in the cold, and is this particular horse that I’m flogging about to keel over so that iCal can race past to the finish line?  Well, I haven’t done looking – yet.

Oh and I haven’t neglected my search for the perfect Mac Music Manager, I’m still looking. I’m currently testing out a program called Jaikoz Audio Tagger which has lots and lots of features and lets you edit pretty much any ID3 tag field. However there’s one aspect of it that concerns me, and concerns me enough to think that if this is the best that’s on offer for the OS X platform in terms of tagging applications, then I may just end up sticking with running Tag&Rename under VMWare Fusion. We’ll see…

Mac Music Management – MusicBox 1.11

Music BoxIt didn’t bode well from the start when I launched Music Box, asked it to scan a folder of 300 or so mp3 files and it promptly fell over, and I mean fell over.

The application MusicBox quit unexpectedly

After relaunching the application I found that It had in fact scanned the folder in question, plus several other folders I hadn’t asked it. What was also a bit worrying is that it was mis-reporting the bitrate on many of the files as 96kbps when I know they are much higher. But initial problems aside, where is MusicBox at?

Essentially it presents you with an explorer style view of the files it has scanned, which can be grouped in one of five ways, the most useful for me being ‘Group by Artist’ which then subdivides your files by album. Double-clicking a track lets you edit selected ID3 tags, although the selection of tags you can access is somewhat limited being just 9 fields plus the lyrics. The main ones are there (Artist, Album, Title, etc.) but many others including Album Artwork are conspicuous by their absence, so your tagging won’t be extensive. One thing you can do is to define your own custom categories, assign tracks to categories and then view your collection filtering by those categories. All very nice but it’s unclear whether or not that data exists solely in the MusicBox database or is written back to the ID3 tag itself – I suspect it’s the former so if you move on from Music Box that data is lost.

Moving on, you can search four Amazon sites (US, UK, DE and FR) plus Gracenote (CDDB) using either the Artist, Album or Track Title pulled from the file, although there’s no way to then automatically choose the correct selection and import it into your tags. This means it’s handy as a reference tool and saves you some typing, but any resulting data you find has to be manually typed in to your tags. That said, the program supports multiple file selection so you could select all the tracks in an album and set the year or the genre for example. You can also search your database based on values found in the 9 tag fields supported, useful for finding tracks that meet certain criteria.

MusicBrainz support is included and you can click an ‘Identify’ button for any chosen track and have MusicBrainz try to identify it. Giving it an obvious one like “I’m not in love” by 10cc returned four obscure suggestions, none of which was even close, however that’s potentially the fault of the MusicBrainz engine rather than Music Box. One more feature that’s good to see is the ability to rename files based on tag values, in this case eight of the tags that MusicBox supports. Following that there’s a handful of options for tidying up tag data, e.g. changing %20 to a space, or capitalizing words, and that pretty much wraps it up.

Credit to Simone Tellini for putting in the effort to write Music Box and if you just want to do the basics of tag editing then his program can do this and has a couple of extra features beyond what iTunes can do. However if I’m looking for a Mac replacement for Tag&Rename under Windows then I need a lot more functionality and Music Box came up well short I’m afraid.

Website: www.tellini.org/mac/musicbox/

The round up so far:

  • MP3 Rage – No longer being developed. Zero
  • ID Tunes – No longer being developed. Zero
  • Music Box 1.11 – Nice but not enough features. Two

The search for the perfect Mac music management apps

As I’ve hinted at in the past, if there’s one area where there seems to be a gap in the Mac line-up of applications it music collection management. Whether this is as a result of the omni-present iTunes or some other fact that escapes me, one thing is for sure – I need to find a suitable alternative to my current clutch of Windows apps, or resign myself to running them under VMWare Fusion on the Mac.

The benchmark I’m starting from is as follows:

  • WinAmp 5.53. When I just want to play a quick track or soundclip, I might not want to load aWinAmp heavyweight application just to do that. Under Windows I use WinAmp as the default application for double-clicking mp3 files. I don’t use WinAmp for anything else such as it’s music library or CD burning capabilities as I already have software to do that
  • Tag & Rename 3.4.6. If it’s the ability to intelligently work with tag data as well as managing file and folder names based on those tags, then Tag & Rename is pretty much top of the heap. A lot of what it can do is replicated in Helium Music Manager, but I’ve been using Tag & Rename for a good five or six years now so I know where everything is and exactly what it can do.
  • Helium Music Manager 2008. The big daddy of music management software. To understand it you have to think of the AllMusic website, but with your own music collection as the underlying data. Add to that a Last.fm compatible music player, intelligent tagger and file renamer, an almost limitless way you can view and report on your music collection, and you can start to get a feel for what HMM is all about.
  • TagRunner. There’s one area where TagRunner really shines… lyrics. If you want to find and storeTag Runner lyrics in your tags then TagRunner is by far the slickest and easiest way to do it. Just point it at a folder and it will search various internet databases for the relevant lyrics and then optionally save the lyrics for you. It will automatically handle most of the other tag data including artwork, but I stick to Tag & Rename for that.
  • MusicIp Mixer. I was debating whether to throw this into the mix or not. It’s an application that intelligently builds playlists by actually analysing your music and I have to say the results are pretty impressive. There are lots of web services that do this for you these days, e.g. Pandora, Songbird, etc., but it’s always nice to have the option to do it with your own music collection. Truth is it’s now a Mac OS X compatible iTunes plug-in so I’ll be seeing how it fares.

Now I appreciate that you can extend the capabilities of programs like iTunes by using scripts and other add-ons, which would go some way to giving it the functionality of something like HMM. However, the main objective is to keep it simple so that anyone can just use a program as-is without having to install, understand and manage a plethora of extras. That’s the joy of these Windows apps – the functionality is there right out of the box (just a shame they’re built on such a wobbly platform). But if it’s a case of just one or two add-ons that make a significant difference, then that’s probably ok.

There you have it – that’s my starting point, and my mission is to find Mac alternatives to each of these applications if they exist. I’ve already explored a couple of Mac programs with mixed results and I’ll be reporting my findings on these pages.

Oh and in case you were wondering, my music collection totals over 30,000 tracks. That represents nearly 30 years of buying LPs, CDs and music online, so the ability to handle large numbers of files safely and within a reasonable time will be important.

One final note (last one I promise!). I won’t investigate software that’s no longer being developed – well not unless it looks really cool. So that’s MP3 Rage (RIP whenever) and IDTunes (RIP 2006) out of the running already.

Switcher Software Summary

At the last count I had nearly FIFTY Windows applications that are pretty much essential for using my PC. Sounds a lot but it’s probably no more than average when you look at everything rather than just the major applications like PhotoShop. While I’ve seen sites that give examples of a few alternatives on the Mac, I thought I would list everything I use, and how I’ve faired in migrating the things I do to the Mac. Not every application is a success story, but this may hopefully give you some ideas to build on. Naturally I haven’t listed Windows security software (ESET Smart Security, Webroot SpySweeper and Primary Response Safe Connect – which I consider the bare minimum) as there really is no need for equivalent software on the Mac. So here goes…

KeyWallet and KeyPass – I use these for storing user ids and passwords, even software license details and1Password short notes. KeyWallet had a lovely simple interface and the ability to drag fields onto web forms. Alas it’s not supported beyond XP so I started using KeyPass instead. On the Mac I settled on 1Password, easily the most functional password manager there is for OS X, in fact in some respects it also contains features similar to thos in AI RoboForm. A word of caution – there is a Mac version of KeyPass, however it lacks the functions of it’s Windows counterpart and the databases between the two versions are incompatible, so you can’t migrate your data from KeyPass on Windows to KeyPass on the Mac sadly.

TrueCryptTrueCrypt – Great for creating encrypted files, folders or even whole drives. Good news is that there’s a native OS X version that has exactly the same functionality.

PeerGuardian – Useful if you use a bittorrent client, as it keeps potentially undesireable connections at bay. Again, there’s a native version of this for Mac OS X that functions in just the same way.

VMWare Workstation – If you need to ask what it is then you probably don’t need it. Anyway, Mac OS X hasVMWare it’s own version called VMWare Fusion, the latest version of which (v2.0) is rapidly catching up with the Windows version in terms of features. Equally capable is Parallels, then of course there’s always BootCamp for the more adventurous or if gaming is your thing. Don’t forget that whichever solution you pick you’ll still need a Windows license and installation media.

uTorrent – Probably the best bittorrent client for Windows. A popular client for Mac users is Acquisition (shareware) which has a slick interface, although it lacks many of the advanced features that uTorrent users will be used to. My preference is Transmission (free), another Mac bittorrent client sporting a variety of useful features. Alternatively, if you’re an Azureus user then you can run it natively under Mac OS X as it’s a java application.

Skype – Everyone must have heard of the ubiquitous VoIP/IM client by now. Good news is that there’s an OS X version of it as well, although a few features are missing from the Mac version. Incidentally, if you have a Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 it’ll work fine with Skype on the Mac although you lose things like face detection and auto zoom.

AdiumMSN Messenger – (or Live Messenger as Microsoft now like to call it) yes believe it or not, Microsoft have a Mac version available. Be prepared to give up some features though (including audio/video support). Personally I use Adium on the Mac. Although it doesn’t have proper audio/video support either (in the pipeline) it’s a feature-rich IM client that connects to most IM systems and has a wealth of add-ons for almost every purpose.

MSN Messenger Plus! (aka Messenger Live Plus!) – If you use Messenger then you really should use Messenger Plus as it adds all those useful things that Microsoft forgot (or didn’t want you to have). There is no real equivalent for the Mac version of MSN Messenger, although if you use Adium you’ll find that it has a lot of these features built-in or available as add-ons.

Firefox – ’nuff said. The native Mac OS X version is just as good!

RocketDock – An excellent launchbar for Windows. Of course the Mac OS has it’s own ‘dock’ although it’s nowhere near as customizable as RocketDock. For a whizzier application launcher on the Mac then check out QuickSilver – loved by thousands!

FastStone Screen Capture – An excellent screen grabbing tool with lots of features, and the earlier freeware version of it is still available if you look hard enough. The built-in screen capture utility in OS X (Cmd+Shift+4) is pretty good and has served me well so far. There are more powerful screen grabbing utilities available for OS X, so I’ll update this when I find one I like.

NewsGatorFeedDemon – Up there amongst the most popular news feed readers for Windows. Well, NetNewsWire is the Mac equivalent, and even supports sync’ing with FeedDemon via the free NewsGator service.

Outlook 2007 – Love it or loathe it, Outlook is everywhere and the 2007 version has a pretty impressive feature set. Microsoft have crafted an alternative called Entourage 2008 (as part of Office 2008 for the Mac), just don’t expect it to have the same feature set. Entourage 2008 is the functional equivalent of the Outlook Express that originally shipped with XP. If you just can’t bear to take the Microsoft route any longer then there’s the Mac’s own Mail.app mail client built right in to the OS, which while quite simple has a wealth of add-ons and scripts to give it that extra oomph. Mozilla’s Thunderbird can also run natively under OS X.

Xobni – an almost indispensable free add-on for anyone using Outlook, it tells you more about your mailXobni and contacts than you ever imagined. Xobni say they will develop versions for other platforms, but given that the Windows version is still in beta (as of May 2008), don’t expect a Mac version any time soon. For now you’ll just have to be envious!

Word 2007 – Who hasn’t heard of the ubiquitous word processor from Redmond. If you want to stick with Microsoft then Word 2008 (as part of Office 2008 for the Mac) is pretty good. However, Apple have their own equivalent in the form of Pages as part of the iWork suite. Which one wins is anyone’s guess so take your pick. Of course OpenOffice is also available for the Mac with a slicker v3.0 nearing release, sporting a much improved interface amongst other things, and native OS X support.

iWork NumbersExcel 2007 – Word 2007’s partner in crime for number crunching. Excel 2008 in the Office 2008 for Mac suite is the obvious choice but of course there’s the equally impressive Numbers (catchy name huh) from Apple as part of iWork suite.

PowerPoint 2007 – Ok, how many people have fallen asleep to a PowerPoint presentation then? Come on, own up (I know I have!). Well if you want to bore an audience to death without too much effort then check out Microsoft’s native Mac offering of PowerPoint 2008 (part of Office 2008 again). Arguably the better bet is Apple’s own KeyNote application in the iWork suite.

ABF Outlook Backup – Great for backing up your Outlook mail and settings, and a must of you want to transfer Outlook from one PC to another. A similar Windows product is OutBack Plus although it can catch you out with some of the registry settings it transfers. On the Mac there’s Email Backup and Email Backup Pro, although I haven’t tried them out in anger yet, so watch this space. Of course there’s the excellent O2M if you’re looking to transfer Outlook mail to your Mac. If you’re an Entourage user then there’s a couple of gotchas where backing up your mail is concerned (I wrote about this is an earlier post). Basically you should exclude your mail file from TimeMachine (if you use it), shut down the Microsoft Database Demon process if it’s running, then just copy your mail file & settings to a suitable location (from where it could be backed up by TimeMachine or whatever backup software you use).

Google Cal Sync – Google’s recently released application lets you sync to and from Outlook, so wherever you make your updates, they’ll be transferred to the other. Sadly there isn’t a version that sync’s Google Calendar to Entourage and I’m still looking for the perfect iCal/Google sync tool, so more to follow on that one.

Foxit Reader – If you want to view PDF files under Windows then you should be using the slim and free Foxit Reader rather than the bloated monster that is Adobe Acrobat Reader. On the Mac you get Preview built-in which will let you view PDFs and there’s always some QuickLook plug-ins too.

ActiveSync – Syncing Outlook with your Windows Mobile phone couldn’t be easier than with ActiveSync if you’re running XP. Of course if Vista is your bag then the feature is built-in (as well as the bugs!). For Mac users there’s the MissingSync which supports loads of devices and clients if the built-in Sync tool can’t do the job.

WinAmp – has been the premier alternative to Windows Media Player for as long as I can remember. While primarily a music/video player, it has library and other media functions too plus a whole host of plug-ins. iTunes on the Mac is the natural alternative, although something of a heavyweight for just playing tunes. Flip4Mac will give you Windows Media capability and Apple’s own Quicktime takes care of the video side of things.

VLC – if you’re a fan of this very capable media player then you’ll be pleased to know there’s a native Mac version available as well.

SyncBackSE – is what I use for backing up, sync’ing, copying and generally moving data around. It has aChronoSync wealth of features allowing you to build anything from very simple to very complex tasks that can be scheduled. The natural alternative on the Mac is ChronoSync which, while not quite as feature-rich, does a reasonable job of sync’ing folders on a schedule. SuperFlexibleFileCopier is another similar tool I’ve been looking at, though currently still in beta it’s showing promise.

Yahoo Widgets – I prefer these to Google Gadgets or the Sidebar if you’re into Vista, but then it’s a matter of taste. Mac OS X Leopard has the ‘Dashboard’ for which there’s a huge variety of widgets available. Got a favourite Yahoo Widget you can’t do without? No problem as Yahoo have made a Mac version of their Widget engine which supports pretty much all the widgets the Windows version supports.

Belkin Network USB Hub – a very handy device that lets you share USB devices over the network (without the need for a host PC). Belkin have thoughtfully provided a Mac version of the software that works just as well, so you Mac and Windows PCs can share the same devices.

EverNoteEvernote – great for taking notes as well as clipping web pages and other types of media. There’s a Mac version of the software available in beta which has pretty much the same functionality although there are one or two glitches. You should also check out MacJournal or SOHO Notes 7 both of which do an admiral job of organizing your snippets of information.

LightZone – is a great photo enhancement tool if you don’t want to load up the well-known (but bulkier) alternatives such as PhotoShop CS3. Good news is that it’s Java-based so it’ll run equally well on your Mac.

Adobe LightRoom – is the photographers workflow tool of choice for many under Windows. Adobe are good at supporting Mac OS X in a lot of their software so check out the Mac version if it’s one of your favourites. Apple of course have their own solution which is Aperture 2, and this was the very first piece of new software I bought for my Mac, it’s that good!

Adobe PhotoShop CS3 – needs no introduction as the ultimate in image creation and editing, and if you’ve bought the Windows version then you can ‘cross-grade’ to the equivalent Mac version without too much trouble. Just notify Adobe and they’ll sort it for you.

Helium Music ManagerHelium Music Manager (HMM) 2008 – if you have a collection of music files (mp3, ogg, flac, etc.) on your Windows PC then there really is nothing that can match the sheer wealth of capabilities of HMM. A music database, tag editor, player, browser, you name it, HMM can do it and then some. Sadly there’s nothing that comes even close on the Mac platform. Sure iTunes lets you play music, do a certain amount of tagging and browsing as a library, plus the purchasing stuff, but compared to HMM it has a long way to go. I plan to elaborate on music collection management and tagging in a future post as I see this as one area where Mac OS X seems to be lagging behind.

Of course this isn’t an exhaustive list of what’s available on the Mac for your current Windows applications, it’s based just on what I currently use on a weekly basis. However, for the more common applications that I don’t use such as movie making, music creation, databases, etc., I’ll search out the alternatives and add another post in the future. In the meantime, have fun.

Just leave it will you…!

Every day, Windows manages to remind me why I bought a Mac.

This latest fiasco occurred when building a new Windows XP machine. I reached the point where I’d installed Office 2007 and transferred my Outlook mail to this new machine. Unfortunately, every time I launched Outlook it complained that a certain Add-In dll from my virus scanner was missing and had thus been disabled. Remember… this is a newly built machine and all it has on it so far is the security software (Firewall, AntiVirus and AntiSpyware) and Office. Nevertheless, Outlook wasn’t happy. The solution? Uninstall Office, uninstall my antivirus software and start again.


You would assume that simply running the install routine would remove all traces of Office. The program files. Libraries. Data files. Registry entries. WRONG! Running the Office 2007 uninstall routine does one thing and one thing only – it removes the Office programs from your Program Files folder. It leaves behind all the Office 2007 data files, and it leaves behind all the Office 2007 registry entries. Therefore, if it is one of these files or settings causing the problem then uninstalling won’t help you. That’s exactly what happened and after reinstalling Office and my antivirus software, I was greeted with the same error message.

Not to be defeated, I put plan B into action. I uninstalled Office and my antivirus software again. I then ran Registry Mechanic in the hopes that it would see Office was no longer installed and remove the relevant registry keys. Just for good measure I also ran CCleaner and told it to scan the registry for obsolete software
. The final step was to delete all the Outlook data files under Documents and Settings\Application Data\Office\Outlook.  There… done!  Time to reboot and reinstall Office and my antivirus software.

Lo and behold, Outlook still managed to find all it’s old settings and now complained that my outlook.pst file was missing. Of course it’s missing you stupid program – I uninstalled you!! Or at least I thought I had. It reminds me of a tree I had in my garden that started growing too large. In the end I decided to get the tree felled and the stump removed. But sure enough where the old stump had been, the wretched thing started sprouting again the following year.

So now I’m off to Google to see if I can find what I need to do to re-initialise Outlook 2007 to think it’s a new install and to run through the initial setup wizard. If only Microsoft would make this information readily available instead of me having to trawl the interweb for hidden snippets…

Recover from disaster – in minutes!

What’s the worst thing that could happen to your Mac Pro? Hard disk crash? A bit too much tinkering has rendered your system unstable or unusable? Well I’ve only been playing this Mac game for three or four months now and for a while there I thought – if anything terminal happens, I’m stumped. I really wouldn’t know where to start, I mean after all the underlying OS is based on some sort of Unix and I know as much about that as I know about [enter your chosen mysterious subject here, e.g. astrophysics, unified field theory, women…!].

But fear not, because for not much outlay and with no more technical skill than being able to hold a screwdriver and click a mouse button, you could have a way to recover from a serious problem in mere minutes. How so?

Step 1 – Buy a hard disk. The Mac Pro takes standard SATA hard disks. You don’t need to buy something exotic (and expensive) from the Apple Store, pretty much any modern SATA drive will do. I plumped for a 500Gb Western Digital that cost me around £47 ($94) but there are smaller and cheaper drives you can use that are just as good. Just make sure you get something that’s large enough to hold all your ‘stuff’.

Step 2 – Get some software that allows you to clone your boot drive. I purchased a program called SuperDuper that’s currently on v2.5 and costs a mere £14.97 (about $30).

Step 3 – Install your new hard disk. It’s as easy as removing the side of your Mac Pro, pulling out one of the empty drive trays (Apple call them ‘sleds’), screwing the tray on to the disk and replacing it in the machine.

Step 4 – Boot the Mac as normal and use Disk Utility to set up your newly installed disk. Identify the disk from the list down the left and create a new partition on it. The default settings are usually fine – that’s a single partition using the journalling file system. Give your new disk a name (I called mine ‘Clone HD’). Once you’ve done this you should see your new disk appear on the Mac desktop.

Step 5 – Use SuperDuper to clone your boot drive on to your new disk. SuperDuper is very easy to use, just click the necessary options and you’re done. One thing I would suggest and that is to exclude your cloned hard disk from Spotlight. If you don’t then searches showing results on your boot drive will most likely appear in duplicate as Spotlight finds the same item on your new disk as well.

Step 6 – Repeat the SuperDuper clone process as often as required to keep your clone up to date. While the first backup will take a while as it has to copy everything across, subsequent backups only need copy across what has changed so they’ll be much quicker. I tend to refresh my clone drive every other day.

That is pretty much it. Now if the worst happens and you lose your original boot drive, or find yourself unable to repair it, simply open up your Mac and remove the problem drive, replacing it with your cloned one. Note – the boot drive tends to sit in bay #1, that’s the leftmost bay as you look at the Mac Pro.

I’ll be filling in the exact details shortly of what settings I use in SuperDuper, but I’ve just tried it out and
my Mac Pro booted from my cloned disk without hesitation allowing me to use the system as before. Obviously anything you changed since the last backup will be lost, but as a way of getting back up and running quickly it’s a useful technique. One thing I probably would having booted off my clone drive is to rename it to match what the original was called (e.g. “Macintosh HD”) so that any scripts or other programs  etc., that look for a disk by drive label and expect to find the original name, will find it.

FolderShare – another poor relation?

Having done more searching on the subject, it seems like there isn’t a solution to the encryption problem with the Mac version of FolderShare. It goes like this:

  • If you want to use FolderShare to sync files between a Windows PC and a Mac, then you must turn off encryption, at both ends. Your files will be transmitted across the web unencrypted.
  • It’s a long standing problem that many people have raised, although it appears Microsoft have no stated intention of doing anything about it. It might work in a future version, it might not. Who knows.
  • The cause is believed to be in the way the different operating systems implement encryption natively. Windows uses 128 bit RC4 while OS X uses 256bit AES.
  • For your own security and peace of mind you might like to consider encrypting the files (e.g. using TrueCrypt which runs both on Windows and OS X) or at least password protecting the files (e.g. using passwords for Word/Excel docs, etc.) if practical.

I’ve complained about Outlook vs. Entourage, I’ve complained about the Windows version of Messenger vs.Microsoft the Mac version, and now I’m moaning about the Windows version of FolderShare vs. the Mac version. Trouble is, if Microsoft stepped up to the mark where their Mac users are concerned, there wouldn’t be anything for me to moan about!

There are of course alternatives to FolderShare, although many that double up as a backup solution aswell as sync’ing will carry a subscription cost element too. You could check out DropBox, Elephant Drive, Carbonite and SugarSync. I’ll add more as I find them.

FolderShare dropped the ball

Perhaps like many other switchers, I haven’t yet let go of my Windows machines and probably won’t do for quite some time for specific things. The challenge is then, how to keep selected files in sync between the various machines?

At present I have a very elaborate system using SyncBackSE (Windows), ChronoSync (OSX) and a D-Link NAS device. My original Windows PC holds the master copy of most of my files (documents, pictures, mp3s, eBooks, videos, etc.) and SyncBackSE runs daily to copy these all across to the NAS. Then using SyncBackSE on my backup Windows PC and ChronoSync on the Mac, I ‘pull’ the files from the NAS so that I can access them directly as required.

Sounds a bit complicated, but it works well. SyncBackSE has a wealth of options for copying and moving files around and I’d even go so far as recommending in place of more traditional backup solutions if you’re of the same mindset as me, and that is – if I lose a Windows machine (e.g. HD crash) then I’m quite happy to rebuild it ‘manually’ so long as my data is safe and can be brought back. It also means your data is backed up in an easily accessible form rather than some proprietary format used by some backup software.

FolderShareThe thing is, I have some key files that I’d like to copy off-site in case of disaster, and that’s where I thought FolderShare might be a good idea. Now I won’t waste your time with the Windows side of it as it’s really straightforward and does exactly what it says on the tin. Install the client, tell it what you want to sync and off it goes. A short while later the relevant folders are sync’ed between your PCs. Unfortunately it isn’t so straightforward with the Mac OS X version of  the client software. Sure it’s dead simple to install and configure, but then… well, nothing happens! The Mac just sits there repeatedly requesting the files to sync and never getting them. You end up with a load of ‘placeholder’ files on the Mac that have the .p2p extension, but that can’t be used in any way.

It’s not my router that’s at fault – that has UPNP already configured and working, and the Windows machines sync just fine. Maybe it’s the firewall on my Mac? Well it’s set to allow all incoming connections and looking at the Port Status in FolderShare it tells me that it can initiate connections on all four ports (80, 443, 6571 and 8000) as well as accept connections on the last two. Compare this with the Windows machines and it’s the same. Googling the problem doesn’t help much, there’s threads from many people describing the very same problem but no-one seems to have the solution other than to disable encryption on the Mac and on at least one of the Windows PCs. I tried this and it worked, but I was unhappy about sending my innermost secrets across the web without at least some sort of protection.

Thinking laterally, I could set up a TrueCrypt folder on each machine and just sync that, or I could password protect each individual file but that would be a pain. So for now, my Mac isn’t joining the FolderShare party which is a real pity as the service is a nice idea. I do wonder if the fact that on all machines (Windows and Mac) port 443 is Ok for initiating connections but blocked for accepting connections, but I did read a post from someone who tried opening the port to no avail.  I’ll continue to search for a solution.

Oh a word of warning. If you get to this position and decide that you may as well delete all the .p2p placeholder files from your Mac, then make sure that you remove your Mac from the FolderShare partnership BEFORE deleting the files. If you don’t then the deletions can get sent back to FolderShare prompting it to delete the matching files from your partner PCs!