The pseudoMac is alive….! Kalyway

I’ll try and keep it brief as there’s already a wealth of information out there about Kalyway, but my little experiment has worked as follows:

Hardware

  • Asus A7N8X Deluxe motherboard
  • AMD Athlon XP 4400
  • 2Gb RAM
  • 2 x Maxtor 320Gb IDE drives
  • 1 x Sony CD/DVD RW
  • nVIDIA 6600GT 256Mb PCI video card

Software

  • Kalyway 10.5.2

For the install settings I used the defaults with the following exceptions:

  • Added the Marvell and forcedeth drivers and used the first AMD patch.

My main aim for doing this was to see how another Mac would behave on the network alongside my Mac Pro. Once installed, I set the hybrid Mac up to allow file sharing and remote management and well… it just works! Next job will be to wipe the box and install OpenSUSE 11.1 (when it’s out) with Netatalk so I can create AFP shares. The advantage of this, aside from the murky area of legality with Kalyway, is that I’ll have a server that I can keep patched (I understand patching Kalyway above 10.5.2 is a good way to break it), but unlike my Windows Server I won’t need a suite of security add-ons to keep it safe.

Congratulations to the guys who produced Kalyway for a very clever piece of work.

CanoScan LiDE 25 – Mac friendly?

CanoScan LiDE 25

CanoScan LiDE 25

Before my heady days as a Mac user, I bought a Canon CanoScan LiDE 25 scanner for my Windows XP setup. It’s a good little scanner too, not particularly quick so you wouldn’t use it to digitize a huge collection of documents for example, but for the odd letter or photo it was fine.

Naturally the time came to move it into my Mac-world and once again to experience a large company’s attempts to support the Mac market. Fair play to Canon – unlike some peripheral makers I could mention, they do at least have a go at providing Mac software, even if the results are not that exciting. So what it boils down to is – is the CanoScan LiDE 25 a good choice for the Mac user with occasional scanning needs?

Well I started off (perhaps naively) assuming that if I downloaded the latest CS driver and Toolbox software for the LiDE 25 from the Canon website then I’d be in business. Wrong! Having done this and having then installed first the driver, then the software, both of which told me they had installed successfully, the Toolbox software was unable to ‘open the driver’. With no errors appearing in the console to give me a clue I uninstalled and repeated the process but it didn’t help, even though the System Profile clearly showed that the scanner was connected.

So instead I resorted to using the installation CD that came with the scanner. The software versions were

Configuring the scanner

Configuring the scanner

older but hopefully they’d work… and they did. After a rather clumsily constructed install process in which you have to click the ‘Quit’ button four times to continue, after a reboot I was presented with a Canon Toolbox that could actually detect the scanner. So far so good. Time to see if it can do the basics.

First up – configuring the scanner. Ok, the very first time you start using the Canon software you’ll realize that the developers have their own view of what OS X software looks like and it sticks out from the aqua interface like a sore thumb. Despite that you can still do what’s necessary which is to set the default actions for the three scanner buttons and a default location for temporary scanner files.

Next – scanning a document into a pdf. This is where features of the software become an annoyance rather than just a nuisance. While you can set the scan mode, quality and paper size easily enough, you are limited to using file names with 20 characters or less for the output! Also you can’t use file name templates, e.g. if you were scanning some utility bills, you can’t use something like ‘Utility bill – &scandate, &scantime’ with the software filling in the variables, so you’ll probably end up renaming each file after you’ve created it. However, annoyances aside the scan results were pretty good for a scanner costing just £50 ($90).

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) – the install disk includes a copy of OmniPage SE, and the process works well enough in so far as you scan the document and OmniPage SE then loads automatically. Again the software is not very intuitive and someone who isn’t used to using scanner and OCR software will probably struggle a bit. However, that wasn’t my main complaint – it was the fact that the accuracy of the OmniPage software wasn’t particularly good. A simple typed letter scanned in black & white at 400dpi threw up countless errors when OmniPage tried to process it. Experimenting with scanner settings didn’t produce any better results so I’d consign the OCR feature to the ’emergencies only’ bucket and move on.

Mail options

Mail options

Mail – A nice feature would be being able to scan something directly into a mail attachment and that’s what the ‘Mail’ button is for in the Canon Toolbox, and on the scanner itself. You can choose to use Mail.app or another mail program such as Entourage by using the ‘+’ button. You can also choose to just scan the item to a file and attach it manually in your mail program. Choosing Mail.app scanned the image and triggered Mail to load, but sometimes the image appeared in-line in the body of the message and sometimes it simply appeared as an attachment. Entourage on the other hand always seems to treat it as an attachment and not put it ‘in-line’. Interestingly, you can specify the name to be used for the attachment immediately before you scan it, however the software then adds a numeric suffix of it’s own to the filename. Note that the 20 character file name limit still applies! Other than that it gets the job done, even if it isn’t very slick and behaves a little inconsistently.

Copy/print – these two functions let you send a scanned document or image to the printer. There seems to be a fair bit of overlap between these two functions, the main difference being that the Print function lets you change the area to be output before printing, wheras Copy just sends it straight to your chosen printer. Again it got the job done and the quality of the output made up for the clumsy software.

That just leaves the Scan-1 and Scan-2 Toolbox buttons which by default let you scan something into an image file (pict, jpeg or tiff) and then save it or pass it to another program for processing. In that respect, if you’re going to be doing a lot of that then you would probably configure the target program to manage the capture stage and use your scanner as the capture device, rather than doing it the other way around.

CanoScan Toolbox X

CanoScan Toolbox X

One final note – I thought that having installed the Canon Toolbox X 4.9.3.2 software from the CD, I would be able to upgrade to the 4.9.3.4 software that’s downloadable from Canon. Nice theory but as soon as I did this it stopped working because the software could no longer see the scanner. I tried upgrading the scanner driver as well but that didn’t help. The only way to get the scanner working was to go back to the software and driver from the installation CD.

So where does that leave me? Well my original use for the scanner which was to scan old photos so I could upload them to Flickr still holds true. For the money it’s an excellent little USB-powered scanner that’s nicely designed and produces very good results for the ad hoc user. The let down is the software. It could be a lot better but it feels clumsy to use and has various limitations. I have to say that the Windows software bundle that comes with the scanner is a lot better. I have seen good reviews of the Fujitsu SnapScan S300M (a Mac-specific version of the cheaper S300) which comment on the excellent software bundle. At £250 ($440) it’s a big jump from the modest CanoScan, but the ability to scan quickly in volume (via a document feeder) and intuitive software, does make it a tempting proposition if you want to de-clutter your house of thousands of old letters and bills.

How much more expensive is a Mac?

2008 Mac Pro

2008 Mac Pro

When I tell people that I spent £1,700 ($3,000) on a shiny new Mac Pro, there’s usually a sharp intake of breath followed quickly by a “How much?!” and “You must be loaded!”. The trouble is it’s very hard to explain to these people where the true savings lie.

My Mac replaced a Windows PC that cost me in the region of £800 ($1,400) to build, excluding software. Add to that the Windows XP license, a copy of NOD32 Antivirus, ZoneAlarm Pro and Webroot SpySweeper which runs to another £200 ($355) remembering that with the exception of XP the other software carries a year on year renewal cost. Now we’re looking at a more reasonable £1,700 vs. £1,000 in the first year, although that figure still seems heavily biased in favour of the Windows machine. So where does the Mac make up the difference?

Time. More to the point… My time.

You see I value my time. Like everyone I like doing the things I want to do, and not so much the things I have to do, and that’s where Windows lets you down. Over the past seven months all my Mac has ever done is exactly what I’ve asked it to. On the other hand, my Windows PC has managed to consume countless hours of my time with various puzzles:

  • One Windows PC won’t connect to a share on another with a ‘not enough memory’ error, even though both machines have 2Gb. After much searching I find a registry hack is needed.
  • ZoneAlarm dies after one particular Microsoft update, wasting hours before I have to finally back out the change and wait for a fix. (I’ve now switched to Eset Smart Security).
  • SpySweeper flags some registry keys suggesting evidence of some really nasty trojan, prompting me to run full scans on everything only to find out it was a false positive.
  • Every 2nd or 3rd reboot of the XP machines results in a blank desktop, prompting further reboots until it mysteriously returns.
  • Outlook becomes unresponsive for no apparent reason and then refuses to load properly until the machine is rebooted. Ultimately I backup my mail, then uninstall and reinstall to try and fix the problem.

I could go on, but it’s a list that is very familiar to tens of thousands of Windows users worldwide. Net result is that I spend needless hours nursing my XP machine along, not to mention the stress levels and over the course of seven months that more than makes up for the higher initial cost of the Mac. Don’t get me wrong, Windows XP is the most stable version of Windows there is for a lot of people, and I dare say there are lots of you who could quote me stories of ‘reliable’ Windows machines. Truth is, I own one myself – it’s a PC running Windows 2003 Server that sits in the loft and backs up my data. Yes I do have the intermittent connection problem where the shared drive on the server disappears from the OS X desktop, but aside from that it sits there and does what it does – helped a lot I’m sure, by the fact that I leave it alone. (I’m currently assessing MountWatcher as a solution to this random ‘disconnect’ problem).

My Windows XP PCs (yes there are others lurking in my loft!) are now switched off most of the time, and when I need to run a Windows program I use VMware Fusion to do the honours. In fact I could argue that my Mac Pro takes the place of several PCs – my XP ‘leisure’ PC, my XP work laptop, my experimental OpenSUSE PC and the dedicated PC I use for remotely supporting clients, as all those bits of hardware are now virtual machines on my Mac.

Now that’s good value!

Windows 2003 Server and my Mac

Windows 2003 Server

Windows 2003 Server

In my loft lurks a PC running Windows 2003 Server which I use for taking backups to. The license cost me enough so I’m determined to make use of it, and to be fair this has been one of my more reliable Windows machines (famous last words).

Backing up from PCs is a doddle, create a share on the server then simply ‘net use’ or map a drive to it and off you go with your chosen software. It would be just as easy on the Mac but for one annoying problem – the connection randomly drops for no apparent reason. I can mount the share quite happily and use it for days, then all of a sudden it’s disappeared and my backup software complains that it can’t access the relevant location. Reconnecting isn’t a problem, I just point the Mac at the server again and off it goes, so authentication isn’t the issue.

I wondered if installing AppleTalk on the server and connecting to shares using AFP rather than SMB might be better, but AFP is ‘crippled’ in Windows 2003 Server and so is of limited use. Sure it presents a nice little picklist of shares to the Mac user, but it doesn’t support long filenames nor does it support automatic reconnection which is what I really need. In fact if your a Mac user with a Windows 2000 or 2003 Server then you’re better off sticking with SMB from what I can see.

So I have three choices really.

  1. I splash out on something like a Mac Mini to replace the server and just hand the drives off it in external USB enclosures. Trouble I’m looking at spending at least £399 ($720) to get one and with the present credit crunch, that will have to wait. Besides, my first Mac Mini was destined to be a media player to replace my ageing PVR.
  2. I explore some way of detecting the disconnect on the Mac and then automatically reconnect. I’m sure I’ve seen a Mac utility that does this, it’s just a case of tracking it down. Or…
  3. I pursue finding a fix on the Windows side, although I don’t hold out much hope.

Incidentally, I got as far as Kalyway installing successfully on my spare PC, but it failed at the first reboot – something about failing to find some plist dependency on the drive I’d just installed to. I may revisit this when I get the chance as it was temptingly close.