The elephant gun uninstaller

This morning I was served up yet another reminder as to why CleanApp can be such a dangerous tool in the wrong hands, not that I needed another reminder. However this example is pretty succinct in that it highlights one of the main issues with an uninstaller that offers any file an application touches, as a candidate for deletion.

You see a lot of applications will access your data files, whether that’s documents, spreadsheets or even mp3 files, and in the case of the latter if you go to uninstall an mp3 tagging application then CleanApp may offer to delete any mp3 files you’ve tagged with that application. Case in point The Tagger which I was trying out earlier to see if anything could ever replace my trusty Tag & Rename (which I have to run under VMware Fusion). After messing around with the tags in just two mp3 files, I decided that nice as The Tagger is, it’s not for me (mainly because I do a lot of bulk tagging and The Tagger seems more geared towards tagging a file at a time). So I go to let CleanApp do its thing and as you’ve probably guessed by now, it offered up the two mp3 files I’d edited as being files I should delete! In addition it suggested deleting something called cookies.plist which I am suspecting is a file accessed and updated by any application that accesses the web (The Tagger accesses the Discogs website). Deleting cookies.plist would I guess be the equivalent of purging all your cookies, given that the file does not appear to be application specific.

No... not the mp3 files!

No... not the mp3 files!

In the end I kept the two mp3 files and the cookies file and let CleanApp do the rest. But just imagine the damage you could do if you edited a lot of data files with an application and then let CleanApp do its thing without a second look!

I still like CleanApp but think it really needs more features to help people protect themselves against accidentally deleting stuff they want. It already knows about protecting certain system files, but I think there are a number of ways this could be extended. For example, automatically protecting known Apple applications, protecting data files shared between applications, monitoring an app and protecting all the files it uses, or even protecting files of a certain type such as mp3 files.

While we’re on the subject of VMware (were we?!) I thought I’d install the latest Windows 7 beta build under VMware to have a look. The install went fine and after a quick Windows Update I even had sound working. Then I thought I’d install ESET Smart Security 4 rather than rely on Microsoft’s built-in anti-malware tools like Windows Defender. Result? Well see for yourself…

Windows does its thing

Windows does its thing

Well it is beta and no-one ever said ESET Smart Security 4 would work with it, but the effects are pretty dramatic. I’ll see if I can unpick the mess in Safe Mode, failing that I’ll just do a re-install. After all, it’s nice to keep an eye on what the other side is doing.  As it happens, I also installed Ubuntu 9.04 in another VM, but I’ve yet to make it fall over…

My (all things Apple) wish list

While I ponder whether or not the Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro was such a good purchase, I thought I might bore the world with my Apple/Mac wish list. So here (in no particular order) are the things I wish were different in my Mac-esque world:

  1. A Logitech webcam with a microphone that supports OS X Speech Recognition.
  2. A ‘watch folder(s)’ feature in iTunes.
  3. Better (more intelligent) integration of OS X ‘Spaces’ on dual-monitor setups.
  4. An iPhone with a user-changeable battery.
  5. iPhones available on any UK network.
  6. An AT&T client for OS X.
  7. A choice of reasonably priced USB/Firewire add-in cards for the Mac Pro.
  8. A second CPU upgrade option for Mac Pro users with (only) one 4-core processor.
  9. A Mac Mini with easily upgradeable RAM and that supports more than 2Gb.
  10. A Blu-Ray DVD upgrade for the Mac Pro.
  11. An end to the $1 = £1 exchange rate on technology products (OK, maybe I pushed the scope of this list a little bit).
  12. Outlook to MobileMe syncing in Windows, WITHOUT having to install iTunes.
  13. Colour-coded categories in iCal.
  14. Better control of Time Machine built-in to OS X (I know you can get 3rd party add-ons, but this really should be built-in).
  15. Better login support for mapping SMB shares, not this Login Items bodge.
  16. A proper tree view in Finder. (I use Mac Rage, but it’s not ideal).
  17. A two or even three button mouse made by Apple!
  18. An Apple wireless keyboard with the same key layout as the wired one.
  19. At least one eSATA port on the Mac Pro.
  20. And finally (for now)… an Apple PVR/Blu-Ray DVD Recorder that supports DiVX, mp3, DVBT, FreeSat, has HDMI 1.3a, etc., etc., …and the bank balance to buy such a monster!

XBox 360 and Mac – in harmony.

I have an XBox 360 I was given a couple of years ago on my birthday. Well strictly speaking that’s not true – my first XBox 360 suffered the dreaded ‘red ring of death’ so this is a replacement. Anyway, the main thing is that as a gamer I’m hopeless, so the XBox’s main duty is as a media extender. Previously I used Windows Media Player so I could listen to my mp3’s on the stereo in the lounge via the XBox and that was pretty much it. Now that I’m using the Mac more and more, the inevitable question was “Can I hook the XBox up with the Mac”?

Absolutely you can, and my choice was Connect360 from Nullriver. Now if you’ve ever set up sharing using Windows Media Player on the PC, you’re about to find out that yet again it’s easier on the Mac. No running around typing codes from the XBox into the PC because getting Connect360 working is simplicity itself. Connect360 installs as a ‘prefpane’ meaning that you access it’s controls via System Preferences undert the ‘Other’ section.

On opening it you’re greeted with a Status page from where you can stop and start the sharing service, and see what’s being shared. Clicking the settings button will provide you with five tabs where you can change setting for general stuff, iTunes, Movies and iPhoto as well as restricting access to certain IP addresses or ranges. All nicely laid out and all very intuitive. Of course for music and photos it does require that you actually use iTunes and iPhoto, but that’s a given for so may Mac users these days. For movies you just place your movie files in your Documents/Movies folder and Connect360 shares them.

The type of movie files supported is actually down to the XBox Team and what codecs are built-in or available for the XBox (you can find a list here). I’m no expert on video codecs but I had some TV shows in .avi format and they played perfectly. Access from the XBox is also really easy, just chose the type of media you want to play, press the ‘X’ button to change the media source, then choose your Mac from the list.

Another really nice feature is the ability to redirect Internet radio to your XBox via Connect360. I listen to a variety of Internet radio stations including the Buzzoutroom, DI.FM and Soma Radio. I have all three in iTunes grouped together under a playlist called Chill Radio. All I do on the XBox is choose to play music then browse to my playlists where I can see Chill Radio. I open the playlist, pick the station I want to listen to and there I am – falling asleep on the sofa to the soothing sounds of the web.

I hadn’t even got round to showing off photos on the XBox, before I’d decided to divvy up the $20 registration fee (the only limitation around the un-registered version is the number of songs you can load up).

Back on the subject of music and iTunes, I still haven’t found the ideal replacement(s) for managing and playing music on the Mac, but for now iTunes gets the job done so it’s no real problem having it there to support stuff like Connect360. Obviously the same caveats apply when tagging your music to play on the XBox, which reminds me – I’m about due to have another look at Jaikoz as there’s a newer version out (released July 14th 2008). No rest for the wicked!

Mac Music Management – Jaikoz 2.4.1 build 1046

JaikozIn my search for the ultimate music management tools for the Mac, I have spent a while playing with the latest version of Jaikoz. For Windows switchers it falls into the category of a sophisticated MP3 tagging tool rather like the excellent Tag&Rename. Pitching right in – Jaikoz exposes pretty much every ID3 tag available to you so that you can edit them singly or in batch through a very easy to understand and nice looking interface. At the top you get the iTunes like navigation pane where you can sort and choose genres, artists and albums which are then displayed as tables in the centre section. The bottom selection can then show you a detailed view of whichever track you’ve selected.It’s all very easy to get on with and customizable for those who like to tweak.

Moving on from this, there is a mind-boggling variety of ways in which you can auto-correct tags, guess tags from filenames, rename files from tags, move files, swap tags and even jump to MusicBrainz, Amazon, Discogs etc. to view more information about the chosen artist, album or track. So whether you’re planning to edit the data by hand, or by retrieving it automatically via other means, you can label up your music with a huge amount of detail. The manual tag editing is done either in the table itself by double-clicking on a tag field or in the detailed view at the bottom and it’s simply a case of typing in what you want. Easy for small numbers of files but a pain when you’re dealing with larger collections, which brings us on to the automated retrieval of data, and MusicBrainz. Now as someone who’s quite fussy about the accuracy of tag data, (well if you’re going to do it you might as well do it properly), I am not that convinced about the quality, consistency or accuracy of the way MusicBrainz works with Jaikoz, and I found that it was all too easy to completely mess things up. To be fair though, that’s a criticism of MusicBrainz more than it is of Jaikoz, and  it’s a shame that Jaikoz Audio tagger doesn’t let you use other sources like Amazon or Allmusic for auto-tagging your music.

To give you a quick example, let’s take a well known album like “Original Soundtrack” by 10cc. Now in my collection the album has all tracks present and is already tagged correctly, but I let Jaikoz and MusicBrainz have their way with it for the purposes of this experiment. So for each track the Artist and Album Artist are both “10cc”, the Year is “1975” and the Album is “Original Soundtrack”. After MusicBrainz had done it’s thing, the Year of tracks #1 & #3 changed to 1975-04, while the rest remained as “1975”. The Album Artist for track #2 got changed to “Various Artists” and the Album to “Super 70’s disk 2” whatever that is! I repeated this with other well known artists and albums and all too often it was the same story with odd anomalies creeping in and in a few cases, entire albums be re-tagged incorrectly. Basically it was difficult to get consistent data without vetting each track carefully, taking away much of the benefit of automated tagging in the first place. You can tweak MusicBrainz settings from within the Jaikoz preferences to improve accuracy but I still found this feature required very careful scrutiny in use. Compare this to the way Tag&Rename imports tag data from Amazon which is far more slick and controllable, plus you get a preview of what it’s going to do before it does it. MusicBrainz and MusicIP are great concepts but I feel they have a way to go yet so be cautious and don’t let them run wild through your precious collection.

So is Jaikoz a good replacement for switchers used to a program like Tag&Rename? Well if it’s manual Tag&Renametagging you want then it’s a resounding ‘Yes!’ because Jaikoz has all the bases covered in that department. In fact if you’re happy to expend effort in checking the consistency of MusicBrainz data for your automated tagging needs, then I’d also recommend it. However, if you’re used to better control and consistency when pulling tag data from the web to bring order to your collection, then my vote would still go to Tag&Rename running under VMWare Fusion, and because Tag&Rename has many of the other tagging functions of Jaikoz covered as well, I’d find it hard to splash out on another tagging program just to get some native Mac functionality.

I know there are licensing issues with programs that want to pull data from Allmusic.com but if Jaikoz could read information from Amazon in the same way that Tag&Rename does, then it would seal the deal for me, but until then…

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.