Snow Leopard – Got the disk, but still waiting

Please wait...

Please wait...

Yes I’ve upgraded my Mac Mini to Snow Leopard, and yes I’ve done a test install of it on the Mac Pro using a spare disk, and it looks great. However, much as I’m keen to upgrade to the latest and greatest OS on my Mac Pro… I can’t.

There are a few key applications that are holding me back.

Logitech Control Centre 3.0 – having a Logitech MX Revolution mouse and a Logitech diNovo Keyboard for Mac, the LCC software is pretty much essential. The current version of LCC (version 3.0) won’t even install under Snow Leopard, and although there are some workarounds to get it installed and to get some of the functionality back, it’s not elegant. Logitech are apparently working on a Snow Leopard compatible version of LCC that should be released “any day now”.

Evernote 1.4.8 – I use Evernote all the time for creating and syncing notes between my two Macs and my Windows (work) laptop. While Evernote 1.4.8 will install and run under Snow Leopard, there are certain things that are broken. There is a Snow Leopard compatible version (1.4.9) in the works, but it’s not out yet. As I write this, Evernote 1.4.9 has appeared on MacUpdate!

VMware Fusion 2.0.5 – another of my core apps, I run my work (Windows) desktop under VMware when I’m working from home. Fusion 2.0.5 won’t even load up under Snow Leopard in 64-bit mode, so best to wait for a fix. No timescales on that one…

1Password 2.9.31 – again, this is something I use every day for storing website logins, secure notes, license details, etc. It will work under Snow Leopard with  some caveats, e.g. it only supports Safari in 32-bit mode. For proper supported S/L functionality it seems I should wait for 1Password 3.0 to make it out of beta. As a registered user I can access the latest beta 3.0 version, but given how critical the data is that I store in 1Password, I’d rather wait for the release version to be on the safe side.

Adobe Lightroom 2.4 – home for all my photos and version 2.4 is reported to have issues under Snow Leopard. Another wait…

DropBox 0.6.556 – great for syncing files between my various machines, but it seems a few bits of this version are broken under Snow Leopard. There’s a version 0.6.557 on MacUpdate but it doesn’t mention S/L compatibility. There’s an experimental build 0.7.12 available, but again, I don’t want to trust my data to something experimental.

EyeTV 3.1.2 – apparently it works but there are problems with the sound.

goSecure 1.2 – the developer hasn’t yet confirmed this is Snow Leopard compatible, although I tried it out on my Mac Mini and it seems to work OK.

MailTags 2.3 – the developer has stated that 2.3 isn’t Snow Leopard compatible and that a new version is on the way.

…and there are a few more.

Wake me up when it’s Christmas.

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Snow Leopard thaws my Logitech webcam mike!

Speak up... I CAN hear you!

Speak up... I CAN hear you!

While I’ve upgraded my Mac Mini to Snow Leopard 10.6, I haven’t yet taken the plunge on my 2008 Mac Pro. This is mainly because I am bug testing some iPhoto software for someone and it would be unfair to change the underlying OS half way through as it would most likely just confuse matters. However, I do now have my Western Digital Caviar ‘Black’ 1Tb drive and so with an hour or so to spare I removed the existing 4 drives and popped it in, just to see how a fresh install of Snow Leopard would run on a Mac Pro.

The installation recognized my Logitech MX Revolution Mouse and Logitech diNovo Keyboard Mac Edition (both plugged in using a Logitech wireless USB dongle), so it was simply a matter of answering a few questions and waiting. Once installed, a Software Update for Remote Screen installed itself, then I was left to play for a while. The Logitech Control Centre v3.0 software refused to install (there is a workaround), so I was unable to use any of the extended features of my keyboard or mouse, however there was some good news about another of my Logitech peripherals.

Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro

Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro

My Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro now works with Snow Leopard’s built-in speech recognition!! Under Leopard 10.5.x, the microphone in this webcam simply refused to work with the Mac’s built-in speech recognition software. It would work fine with other apps like Skype, iChat, etc., and your voice would even register in the OS X speech recognition window, but getting the Mac to recognize anything was impossible and it was a widely reported problem. However, under Snow Leopard I decided to give it another go and what do you know – it worked! Off I went, quoting the phrases on the calibration panel… What time is it? Quit this application. Open a document… and so on. Each one registered first time and I was then able to use speech recognition as I’d always wanted. I am now wondering if the mike will work with MacSpeech Dictate under Snow Leopard? Who knows.

Eventually the time came to stop experimenting and put the Mac Pro back to Leopard 10.5.8. Naturally once I’d put all the original drives back I tried out speech recognition with the webcam and it steadfastly refused to play ball. I am wondering if I upgraded from 10.5.8 to 10.6 rather than doing a fresh install, whether or not the webcam mike would still work with the Mac’s speech recognition? Maybe that’s an experiment for next week…

Logitech diNovo Keyboard, Mac Edition

Since I got my Mac Pro back at the start of 2008, I have been using the Logitech diNovo Edge (Windows) keyboard with it. I was a hang-over from my Windows PC days, and as a keyboard I was very happy with it despite the rather high price. My only real complaints were that I had a bunch of keys on it that I couldn’t use (the Mac simply didn’t recognize them) and the Logitech Control Centre software uses a couple of kernel tricks that break certain bits of software (like A Better Finder Rename for example).

So after a lot of deliberation I decided to splash out on the much cheaper diNovo Keyboard Mac Edition and it arrived this morning. I am now wondering if I shouldn’t be calling this blog “I spenddiNovo Keyboard Mac Edition my money so you don’t have to”? Ok, the first thing I need to make clear is that this keyboard shares the diNovo name and colour scheme with the Edge and that’s where the similarity seems to end. If you think you’re going to get the build quality and feel of the Edge, then either stick with the Edge or buy the diNovo Edge Mac Edition which for reasons best known to Logitech, isn’t available in the UK.

Right, let’s start with the construction. As I mentioned, the colour scheme is the same but the Plexiglass of the Edge is replaced with glossy black plastic.  The aluminium palm rest at the bottom is still there, and although the spec says it’s aluminium, it feels like painted plastic. The keys themselves are the same dimensions as on the Edge, and have a similar feel to the Edge, but the first thing I noticed when I started typing is that the keyboard sounds different. The spacebar has a nasty ‘clack’ to it, reminiscent of the old IBM keyboards from the nineties. On the subject of keys, the layout and spacing is almost identical to the (wired) aluminium Apple keyboard with the numeric keypad, except that the styling of the Apple keyboard makes it look and feel less cluttered.

Caps Lock LightWhat about the rest of the keyboard then? Well the neat ‘features’ of the Edge are all gone. The diNovo Mac Edition has a small green power light which illuminates when you switch it on and then goes out after ten seconds, presumably to conserve power. There is also a small orange light on the Caps Lock key to indicate whether it is on or off, although you can disable this in the Logitech software (and have the Caps Lock status shown in the OS X menu bar instead). That’s it… gone are all the nice touches of the Edge, but then that’s a reflection of the fact that the diNovo Mac is a lot cheaper – on Amazon UK it’s currently £58.98 + postage vs. £94.96 + free postage, a saving of around £30 ($50).

On the subject of downsides… the diNovo Mac Edition uses a Logitech 2.4GHz wireless dongle rather than Bluetooth, thereby taking up another of your USB ports. What’s more, the keyboard isn’t compatible with Logitech’s new ‘Unifying’ receiver (bang go my thoughts of running this keyboard and my MX Revolution mouse through just one dongle). Also the batteries are not rechargeable via the dock arrangement the diNovo Edge has, although they say these batteries will last three years (I’m two years and 364 days off confirming that figure!). And for the Health & Safety guys out there, this keyboard is not adjustable in any way – the angle of the keyboard is fixed unlike the Edge which had little retractable feet to change the angle of the device.

There must be some plus points, yes? Well yes, the keyboard is fully ‘supported’ by OS X so you’ll have the Ctrl, Alt and Cmd keys in their proper places as well as the full range of (programmable) function keys, where on the Edge the function keys were, well just there. Some of them did what you expected (as their Mac equivalents), and some of them… errr, didn’t. Also, you now have more configuration options via the Logitech Control Centre (LCC) software rather than it simply telling you there’s a keyboard there and not letting you configure it, which is what it does with the diNovo Edge. The LCC software will let you:

  • Program function keys 1 thru 6 and 13 thru 19. (F7 thru F12 are fixed).
  • Toggle the Caps Lock status between the OS X menu bar and the little orange light on the Caps Lock key itself. Interestingly you have to switch the keyboard off/on for the change to take effect.
  • Display the Caps Lock status on the screen, rather like a Growl notification.
  • Toggle the function keys between standard and ‘fn’ by using the fn key on the keyboard. This effectively doubles the number of function key assignments you can have.

In the past I’ve had an issue with the Logitech software. To get the @ and ” keys assigned correctly for UK users, you had to load the Logitech UK Intl key map. That was fine except that the kernel extension it used to make it work would break some software. If I had Logitech UK Intl enabled, I was completely unable to type in the input boxes used by A Better Finder Rename, but switching to the default British (Apple) key map, it would work again. PublicSpace (the Better Finder Rename developers) were very responsive and helpful in helping me pin this down. Anyway, the diNovo Mac Edition has the correct key map for the British (Apple) layout, so that’s a problem solved.

Take your pick...

Take your pick...

So what are my conclusions then? Well it’s early days as I’ve been using this keyboard for less than a day. So far I have to say that I still prefer the diNovo Edge from a comfort perspective. As I type this I find I am resorting to the ‘hunt and peck’ style of typing, rather than using all my fingers as I had managed to do with the Edge. That’s probably more to do with the keyboard being new and very slightly different rather than anything else and will hopefully improve with time although it’s fair to say that the diNovo Mac Edition feels more cramped than the Edge. Will I keep it and grow to like it, or will I get frustrated and donate it to a good cause? (My step-mother may be getting a Mac Mini and will need a keyboard). Can’t really say at this stage. In a perfect world, Logitech would sell the diNovo Edge Mac Edition in the UK, rather than what is essentially a re-badged diNovo Keyboard for Notebooks. But it’s not a perfect world and so I shall persist with this for a while at least.

If you like the Apple aluminium ‘extended’ keyboard with the numeric keypad, and wonder why they don’t make a wireless version, well the diNovo Keyboard Mac Edition would probably be what you’re looking for, if you can live with the cheap and noisy spacebar. If you’re after the experience the diNovo Edge gives you, then you’ll probably feel disappointed as only the elusive diNovo Edge Mac Edition will fill that gap, and it’s even disappeared off the Logitech’s US website now.

Finally, if you’re a little confused by some very similar sounding keyboard names, then blame Logitech. There’s the diNovo Edge (essentially the Windows version), the diNovo Edge Mac Edition (a proper Mac version of the Edge), the diNovo Keyboard Mac Edition which I’m looking at here, and the diNovo Keyboard for Notebooks which is what this Mac keyboard seems to be based on. Their marketing men must be laughing all the way to the bank!

Windows diNovo Edge keyboard & Leopard – A step forward?

It's there - my Windows diNovo Edge keyboard!

It's there - my Windows diNovo Edge keyboard!

In addition tp my Logitech MX Revolution mouse, I use a Logitech diNovo Edge keyboard with my Mac Pro. It’s not the Mac version of the diNovo Edge, rather it’s the original Windows version with the soft orange lights. It works fine as a basic keyboard with OS X Leopard, and the volume slider, mute button, the ‘Touch Disk’ and the sleep button also work, but that’s about it. None of the extended function keys do anything because the Logitech Control Centre software for OS X doesn’t recognize the diNovo Edge… until now that is. I saw via MacUpdate that version 2.7 of the Logitech Control Centre software has just been released, and seeing as I was using v2.6 I figured I ought to upgrade, so off I went and installed it.

Previously when I launched the Logitech Control Centre (v2.6) in System Preferences, I would be shown my Logitech mouse and asked which device I wanted to configure. There was no sign of the keyboard, so configuring it in Mac OS X was impossible. Now however, it’s started to change. Now when I launch v2.7 of the Logitech Control Centre software, up pops my diNovo Edge keyboard! Surely they haven’t…? Have they…?

I can check the battery level!

I can check the battery level!

Well it’s good news and it’s bad news. First the good news – yes you can select your (Windows) diNovo Edge keyboard and click the Configure button. Click on the General tab and you’ll be able to set the tracking speed multiplier for the Touch Disk and you’ll also be able to see what the remaining battery life is for your keyboard. Both useful additions over the zero-configurability you had before.

But now for the bad news. You still don’t seem to be able to configure any of the other keys on the keyboard, although the option to do so seems tantalizingly close. If you choose the ‘Keys’ tab you get what looks like a screen where you can assign applications to certain keys, but even though it seems you can build a list of apps and their corresponding keystrokes, nothing actually seems to work. I assigned Firefox to the Option-3 key combo but pressing Option-3 did nothing, and I can’t get anything to appear in the Name/Assigned Action list.

So near... and yet so far!

So near... and yet so far!

My guess is that the Windows version of the diNovo Edge is still not oficially supported under OS X and that the fact that now appears in the Logitech Control Centre v2.7 release is just a happy coincidence because some aspect of its operation overlaps with the Mac version of the keyboard. Still, maybe v2.8 of the software will address that and I’ll finally have a fully functional version of the keyboard? Ok, I’m not holding my breath on that one.

The humble MX mouse

Logitech Control CentreWhat can you say about mice that hasn’t already been said before? As it happens – not much, but there’s a couple of things that spring to mind for Mac users considering an alternative to the (quite frankly dreadful) Apple Mighty Mouse. For almost a year now I’ve been using a Logitech MX Revolution mouse with Mac OS X, and if you want to see a good review of it, albeit with a Windows slant on it, the guys over at Trusted Reviews have already written a far better review than I could ever manage.

Now at first, I was connecting the mouse via Synergy running on a Windows XP machine, meaning that I had basic Mouse Configurationmouse support under OS X but couldn’t program the wheel and left/right buttons to do anything other than their default actions. This all changed when I finally ditched Windows as my primary workstation and connected the mouse directly to my Mac Pro. At that point I was able to load the Logitech Control Centre software for OS X and configure the mouse exactly how I wanted, as unlike my diNovo Edge keyboard it’s fully supported under OS X. The software works well and lets you choose from a variety of options for the various wheels and buttons you get on the MX Revolution.

Blistered mouse!

Blistered mouse!

In use the mouse is as comfortable as ever, being easily the best mouse I have used, and I have no problems getting the mouse to last a week on a single charge. I’d even go as far as saying this is the perfect mouse except for one minor niggle – durability. My MX Revolution is probably a year old and doesn’t get particularly heavy or rough use and so you’d think durability wouldn’t be a problem. However, on the right-hand side of the mouse the finish is a smooth plastic that has a rubberized coating for extra grip. On my mouse this rubberized finish is already ‘blistering’ and peeling off so I’ll probably have to replace it before long. Trouble is, the MX Revolution is so comfortable and pleasant to use that I’ll probably replace it with another one despite this flaw!

I might actually drop Logitech a line and see what they have to say about this, as I’m sure I’m not the only person who has found this. Of course I don’t have the original receipt and so I’m not looking for a refund, but if they say anything interesting I’ll let you know. Hopefully if this is a problem they’re aware of, they might have have improved the process by which they bond the rubberized finish to the plastic. Who knows? As Judge Judy would say – am I getting hung up on the minutiae in life??

Microphone for a Mac Pro

For a while now I’ve been wanting to use speech recognition on my Mac, and to be able to tell it to ‘Get my mail’ or to ‘Switch to Firefox’. The problem has been that the Mac Pro doesn’t come with a built-in microphone, and the built-in mike on my Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro, whilst fine for iChat and Skype, flatly refused to work with the Mac’s own speech recognition. So the search was on for a microphone that was guaranteed to work so that I could start talking to my computer, just like Scotty in Star Trek!

Now before we go any further, I must point out that I wasn’t in the market for a headset with a microphone on it. I figured that being attached to my Mac via a cable was going to be too restrictive and besides, I’ve already got a very nice set of speakers hooked up to the machine. Also, any thought of a wireless headset or even a bluetooth headset to perform this role were quickly dismissed, owing to the lack of evidence that they work with OS X.

So, having searched around in Google for a variety of ‘Mac USB Microphone Speech Recognition’ keywords, it became clear that there were no websites that stated categorically “this USB microphone works with the built-in Mac OS X speech recognition”, although I did start to find some likely candidates.

The MacMice MicFlex was mentioned on the MacSpeech Dictate website and I figured that if it was verified to work with their Voice Dictation software, then it would almost certainly work with the OS X feature. Unfortunately, tracking down a UK supplier selling them at a sensible price was another matter (I found one shop wanting £49.95 for it). I also spotted the Samson C01 (£54.99) and the Blue Snowflake USB (£49.98) on the Solutions Inc website, and as these guys are an Apple retailer I figured if they were selling mikes chances are they’d be sure to work on the Mac. I talked to one of their sales reps and while he said these were excellent devices for creating podcasts and working with things like GarageBand, they couldn’t guarantee they’d work with the built-in speech recognition simply because no customers had actually reported back that they did. Fair play to them as they weren’t about to sell me something they couldn’t guarantee would do the job.

Wasteful packaging

Wasteful packaging

In the end I decided to take a punt and just try out a ‘cheap’ Logitech USB microphone that retailed at Amazon UK for just £13.92, and with free delivery it arrived 3 days later. Once I’d disposed of the ridiculously unnecessary packaging, I was left with something that looked like it had escaped from a 1970’s B movie, but at this price what can you expect. Plugging it in, I opened up my System Preferences, found Speech and selected ‘AK5370’ as my input device. (AK5370 refers to the chipset used by the microphone). I then went in to the calibration settings and started talking, and guess what…. IT WORKS!!! Yep there you go Mac Pro owners, if you want a low-cost USB mike that works with the built-in OS X speech recognition feature then I can confirm the Logitech USB Desktop Microphone works.

However as is often the case in the computer world, this little story didn’t end on a high note. Yes, aside from the occassional misunderstanding (the Mac keeps launching FrontRow when I ask it to launch Firefox) the speech recognition is definitely a usable feature, and it’s quite fun to simply ask your Mac to do something and to see it respond. No the problem is that it seems there’s a bug with the speech recognition feature in OSX 10.5.x which is that it simply shuts itself off after a random period of time, and I’ve seen various posts from people complaining that this happens. I’m running OS X 10.5.5. and the only way I’ve found to restart it is to turn the feature off, turn it back on and re-calibrate it, at which point the little speech recognition ‘pad’ reappears on the desktop.

So close…..

More PCI slots for a 2008 Mac Pro

Mac Pro owners will know that finding accessories for their machine can sometimes be a bit of a lottery. iMacs and Mac Books have things like cameras and microphones built-in, and anything else is either a dedicated peripheral from Apple, or something that connects via USB. So when it comes to expanding the Mac Pro it’s often a case of reaching for Google and off you go.

I’m already looking for a USB microphone that works with the voice recognition built-in to OS X, given that the ones on my Logitech webcams work with everything (Skype, iChat, etc.) except any form of voice recognition. Both the MacMice MicFlex USB and the Logitech USB Desktop Microphone look like possible candidates, and I’ve got the latter on order from Amazon UK (for just £13.89 rather than the £24.99 PCWorld want to fleece you for it!), so when it arrives I’ll let you know how it works out.

However all these USB devices need a home on my Mac Pro and with only 3 USB slots at the back and 2 at the front (that I want to keep free), I need more slots! A bit of research will tell you that the 2008 Mac Pro sports PCI Express (aka PCIe) slots. This means that many of the regular PCI style cards won’t fit and you need to look elsewhere. What I also found are many websites that try and sell you PCI cards telling you they’re supported under Mac OS X but failing to warn you that they may not fit the latest Mac Pros.

In the end I was looking at a Belkin PCI Express 5-port USB card from Amazon UK for the princely sum of £42.35. Surely that couldn’t be the cheapest? A bit more digging and I found Cancom stocked USB cards so I headed over there. Turns out they didn’t have what I needed, but the salesman very kindly telephoned Maplin who are just a 5 minute walk from their store and established that they had what I needed. With service like that it seemed a shame to go elsewhere, and if you want helpful Mac-buying advice I can definitely recommend Cancom. Just a short while later and I was picking up my ‘4 + 1 USB 2.0 PCI Express Card‘ at Maplin for just £24.99!

The eco-unfriendly-slice-your-fingers-sharp-plastic(!!) packaging mentioned nothing about Mac compatibility, and indeed the little leaflet enclosed said I needed some flavour of Windows from 2000 up to Vista (eugh!), but the edge connector was exactly what I was looking for. Fitting it was a 3 minute job, and powering the machine back up with my two external Freecom USB drives connected saw them burst in to life. Likewise my Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro works a treat, as does my iPhone 3G dock. With the receiver for my Logitech MX Revolution mouse, and my Elgato Hybrid TV tuner plugged in to the Mac Pro’s built-in rear USB ports, I’m left with one free slot – for my USB microphone when it arrives.

The PCIe card fitted.

The PCIe card fitted.

Testing out the read/write performance of my external USB disks, they seemed as fast as they were when connected to the Mac Pros built-in USB ports. One point to note is that none of the USB devices that I have plugged in to my new PCIe USB card is bus-powered. The card does have a 4-pin power socket on it, but I elected not to power up the card, a) because I don’t need it, and b) because I have no idea where I’d take a power feed from inside my Mac Pro anyway, at least not without some further investigation!

So, if you’re a 2008 Mac Pro owner looking for a PCIe USB card, you could do worse than opt for this one from Maplin.

Incidentally, if you don’t have a Maplin store in your part of the planet, here’s the website for the company that makes the card (SunRich Technology H.K. Limited). Navigating the site can be a little tricky, you want to click on ‘Product’ at the top, then ‘PCI Express I/O Card’ then ‘PCI-E USB 4 + 1 Port’. If you don’t manage that, then the part details off their site are as follows.

Article No: PCIE-USBNEC101-5P-1 (4+1) PORTS
Part No: IE-N17-1241-00-00012
Description: U-321, PCI EXPRESS NEC101 USB 2.0 4+1 PORTS ST LAB GIFTBOX