Snow Leopard – Got the disk, but still waiting

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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…

Taming the new NetNewsWire adverts box

I’m a bit of a news junkie and I waste far too much time reading RSS news feeds. It doesn’t help when there’s apps like NetNewsWire which make it all so easy. I’ve been using NetNewsWire since I got my Mac and it’s one of those apps I’d install on any new Mac (note to self – no you can’t afford that new 15″ Macbook Pro you’ve been lusting after).

Anyway, for all this time I’ve been happily using NetNewsWire with its clean, uncluttered interface and happily keeping it in sync with my iPhone and with FeedDemon on the one or two Windows machines I find myself obliged to use every so often. And then the holy grail of features comes along in NetNewsWire 3.2beta… synchronization with Google. That’s right, you can now sync NetNewsWire with Google Reader making it even easier to satisfy your news feed habit wherever you are. Unfortunately there’s a catch and that’s adverts – that’s right, in order to support the free version of NetNewsWire, you now have adverts popping up in a little window at the bottom left of your news reader.

I HATE ADVERTS! Every time I tune in to a commercial TV station I seem to get the start of a 5 minute advert break. A 30 minute TV show is actually 10 minutes of adverts, 2 minutes of credits and only 18 minutes of actual TV. And the web is becoming saturated with adverts now, there’s barely a web page you can look at now that doesn’t try and sell you something (including the very page you’re reading if WordPress has anything to do with it).

Now I know you’re going to tell me that the adverts make a lot of this free software viable, and enables a lot of great content to be free and you’re probably right, but it doesn’t stop me from running Firefox extensions like NoScript and AdBlock Plus to try and minimize the amount my eyeballs get fried with animated banners trying to sell me something I don’t want or can’t afford. Ok, enough of me ranting about the commercial world, how did I get rid of the adverts in the latest version of NetNewsWire? Simply by using LittleSnitch to block where NetNewsWire is getting its advert content from.

Picture 40

What you need to do is to deny NetNewsWire access to http://www.northmay.com, either just on Port 80 or on any port to that site. You may need to go into LittleSnitch and delete the rules for NetNewsWire to then allow LittleSnitch to recreate them by prompting you for what access NetNewsWire is allowed when you next launch it. So far this workaround has worked a treat. The advert box is still there in my reader, but thankfully it doesn’t contain anything distracting that changes every 30 seconds or so.

Look Ma, no adverts!

Look Ma, no adverts!

I was fortunate in that I picked up LittleSnitch as part of a MacUpdate Promo Bundle last December, so I got it for a great price, but it’s well worth the full price as an extra level of security and control for your Mac. If you don’t have LittleSnitch and want an alternative, then I’d highly recommend the free and opensource news reader called Vienna. I’ve been using Vienna for less than twenty four hours, however the look and feel of it is just as good as NetNewsWire, and it’s got the functionality to match – apart from the sync features that the NewsGator products have of course.

When NetNewsWire 4.0 is released in however many weeks time, I guess it’s going to be a choice of a free version with adverts or a paid version without. Whether or not the above trick will still work remains to be seen as I’m sure the NetNewsWire developers are well aware of this sort of workaround already. Will I upgrade to the next free version of NetNewsWire or end up buying an ad-free version? Maybe, maybe not. I have been trying out Vienna and apart from sync’ing it ticks all the boxes for me, and in fact anything that helps ween me off spending hours reading newsfeeds by not offering sync between multiple devices, might actually be a good thing!

Quickbitz – CleanApp, Netgear DGN2000 + Airport Extreme, Camera Tip

CleanApp

CleanApp

A while back I did a little review of an uninstaller called CleanApp by Synium Software. One of its main strengths was that it goes into a lot more depth than other uninstallers because it can track what files a particular application is using. However, I spotted that this could also be a drawback in the wrong hands as it was all to easy to blast a file that was needed by other apps. Synium have now fixed this and have made a great app even better. CleanApp can now detect if a file is used by other apps and if so will ‘uncheck’ it on the list of files to delete and tag it with a little icon to show that it’s needed elsewhere. They’re definitely on to a winner with that feature.

So on to routers and my ageing D-Link G624M ‘MIMO’ wireless router was beginning to struggle. Seems every time it had to handle large numbers of connections, as one might experience with BitTorrent, the router would simply disconnect after a few minutes, and recycling the power was the only way to get it back online. I was loathed to replace it though, because it worked fine with my Mac Mini, XBox 360 and work laptop. However it started to disconnect more frequently and so I eventually plumped for a new Netgear DGN2000 Draft-N job. I have to say my fears about switching were unfounded and the Netgear works brilliantly with everything. What’s more, I also have an Airport Extreme (Dual Band) daisy-chained off the Netgear (seeing as the Airport has no way of connecting directly to my ADSL line). Once I discovered the correct setting on the Netgear, the Airport Extreme worked perfectly with it. On the Netgear you should go to the LAN Setup page and set RIP Direction to ‘Both’ and set RIP Version to ‘Rip-1’… job done.

Netgear DGN2000

Netgear DGN2000

Oh and another thing – I bought a Razer eXtremeMat mouse mat a little while back, but after only a short while I decided I didn’t like it. Now this mouse mat has two different surfaces (one for speed and one for accuracy) and is made of aluminium. However, I found that placing it under my D-Link G624M wireless router, it actually IMPROVED the signal!? (That’s as measured by Air Radar on a MacBook in the lounge, and also by the XBox 360). However, the complete opposite is true for the Netgear router. When sitting on the aluminium mouse mat the signal strength was 67%, but removing the mat boosted the signal to 78%. How weird is that?

And finally… I wrote a tip a while back about how to prevent iPhoto loading every time you plug your iPhone into your Mac, while still being able to load iPhoto for your camera. Well now there’s an even better solution. It a little freeware utility called Cameras by Flexibits. It installs as a Pref Pane and lets you easily control what happens when you plug in any device that has photos on it, and that includes card readers. I strongly recommend you check it out – I’ve ditched my little Automator Action in favour of cameras and haven’t looked back since. If you want a good review of exactly what Cameras does, then check out the MacWorld review.

What’s in the dock?

Following my post on OS X uninstallers, Matt asked about what applications are in the dock in my screen shot. So here’s a quick run down of the extra apps I’ve got in the dock, plus what’s loaded and showing in the menu bar.

What_s What

The Dock (from left to right)

Path Finder – I use this instead of the default Mac OS X Finder for most of my file management on the Mac, mainly because I can open it with two panes visible and drag & drop between them, but it’s got a whole host of other file management goodies besides.

OtherInbox/Fluid – OtherInbox is great for managing my mail and an absolute must in the fight against spam (I wrote a separate post about it). Here I’ve got the web interface to it bundled as an application using Fluid, so I can quickly launch straight into it from the Dock.

NetNewsWire – the best way to keep on top of all those RSS news feeds. I’m a bit of a news junkie (hmmm, might even post about what feeds I follow at some point), and NetNewsWire makes it easy to get my daily fix, oh and it’s free.

Microsoft Messenger – After moving to the Mac I still had a lot of friends using Messenger, and the Microsoft client gave me the best compatibility even though it lacks some of the features of it’s Windows counterpart (like audio & video in the personal version). I do like Adium as an IM client, but for some reason keep going back to Messenger. Old habits die hard!

VMware Fusion – If there’s one indispensable app on my Mac, this is it. It’s neck and neck with Parallels when it comes to running Windows on your Mac, and I typically run three Windows VMs side by side during my working day. VMware has been rock solid and we use it at work so I can move VMs between machines if need be.

1Password – I keep all my logins. passwords and secure notes such as software licenses in 1Password. Browser integration makes it a snip to quickly and safely log in to web sites, plus with the iPhone app I’ve got all my passwords safely backed up on the phone.

Pages 09 – This was my first choice for word processing on the Mac, although I had to add MS Word later.

Word 2008 – I bought MS Office 2008 for the Mac simply because so many of my colleagues use Word on their Windows machines and this gave me the best compatibility for sharing those docs.

Excel 2008 – Not much of a number cruncher but have written a couple of complex spreadsheets in Excel 2007 for Windows which I use weekly and Numbers 09 had a few issues handling them, so Excel 09 was the natural choice. Even so, there’s still a couple of compatibility issues between Excel 07 and Excel 2008 – ahem, thank you Microsoft.

EyeTV – how else to get my daily fix of pulp TV without leaving my Mac? Bought an Elgato EyeTV Hybrid and this is the software that came with it. Works brilliantly and dead easy to use.

Spotify – The revolutionary music streaming service that everyone’s talking about. A good range of music to suit all tastes, and relatively unobtrusive adverts for the free service.

Last but not least, there’s an icon in the dock that lets me quickly connect to my Mac Mini (standard built-in OS X screen sharing stuff).

The Menu Bar (left to right)

Skitch – Superb for capturing screen shots and then editing/annotating them. All the text and arrows in the screen shot at the start of this post were done using Skitch. It also lets you easily upload and share the fruits of your labours.

Evernote – Great dumping ground for all those notes I would otherwise be scribbling on bits of paper, plus I can sync my notes between computers, and with an iPhone version I can sync notes to that too.

DropBox – Another great way to share files between computers, and even with friends. 2Gb of online storage for free!

OpenDNS Updater – I’m a great fan of the OpenDNS service, keeping me safe from dubious websites, phishing attacks etc. I even wrote a blog post about it a couple of months ago. The OpenDNS updater is a free little app that syncs your IP details with the OpenDNS service.

GMail Notifier – A handy way to keep tabs on new Google mail. This was Google’s own version, but I’ve since switched to the leaner GMail Notifr app.

Yahoo Widgets – A hangover from my Windows days, thousands of widgets to put on your desktop, and I like the fact that you can change the transparency of any widget.  I know OS X has the Dashboard for widgets, and with a little hack you can put Widgets on your desktop, so it’s horses for courses. (To be fair, I think Yahoo Widgets are on the way out as there’s fewer and fewer new widgets appearing these days).

Smart Reporter – A little menu bar app that monitors the SMART status of your drives – green is good. I’ve got four drives in this Mac Pro, so any early warning of an impending failure is a plus.

Mozy – Online backup tool (this is me and my backup paranoia again). Mozy offers a good balance of functionality and cost (just $4.95 a month for unlimited storage).

Little Snitch – I was actually quite happy with the built-in OS X firewall, but I got Little Snitch as part of a MacUpdate Promo Bundle. I installed it and found that it’s nice to have that little extra bit of control and information about what your firewall is up to.

iStat Menus – An assortment of useful menu bar indicators for various aspects of your system. Here I’m using the memory meter to keep an eye on how much of my 12Gb has been gobbled up by my VMware virtual machines.

MobileMe – Apple’s online service needs no introduction. I keep this in the menu bar simply to give me quick access to go and check up on it or force a quick sync.

On the desktop there are two Yahoo Widgets visible. The one on the right is the standard Yahoo Weather Widget that comes bundled with the app. You can see it here at around 50% transparency so it blends into the background. The one on the left is something called Neon Gauges which will give you a graphic representation of various aspects of your system. Here I’ve used circles to indicate CPU and disk usage and have blended them in with the shapes on the background wallpaper.

There you go, a lightning tour of what’s on my OS X desktop. Obviously I’ve done the rebuild since taking that snapshot, but I still use most of those apps, so hope this gives people a few ideas. This has given me a few ideas for other posts I might do in the future, like:

  • What news feeds I’ve got in NetNewsWire
  • What’s on my iPhone
  • A sum up of what’s in (and around) my Mac Pro

Fun with customized folder icons on Mac OS X

How often do you come across a piece of software that does exactly what you want it to do? Well it seems that iconCompo has provided me with the means to do something I’ve wanted to do ever since getting my Mac. Now I actually quite like Leopard’s minimalist cool blue colour scheme for it’s folder icons. I ust wished there was a way to ’emboss’ selected folder icons with something that gives a clue as to the contents so that I don’t have to scan the labels underneath. I still want the folder icon to be clearly visible so that I know it’s a folder (rather than an app or an archive for example), but some extra visual cues would be nice.Similarly I don’t want anything too colourful as that can be distracting.

So it was almost by accident that I ended up downloading iconCompo. I was looking at another icon editing app on MacUpdate and I happened to look at the ‘Other People Suggest’ where someone had mentioned iconCompo. A few minutes later I was staring at a very simple interface with three boxes on it thinking ‘what comes next’? Well the premise is very simple – box #1 represents one layer, box #2 represents another layer and box #3 represents the result, which is the essence of how you come up with a customized folder icon that combines the image you want with Leopard’s standard folder icon, as the picture below demonstrates.

iconCompo

iconCompo

So for example, to create a customized folder icon for the folder where Email Backup Pro stores backups of my mail file, I pasted the Mail.app icon into box #1, the default folder icon into box #2 and hey presto…! However, the capabilities of the program don’t end there. You can resize and reposition images, as well as changing the hue, saturation, brightness etc. I wanted to stick with Leopard’s blue colour theme so I altered the top layer of each of my custom icons to give it a blue hue, and I’m pretty pleased with the results.

Start small, then go for it!

Start small, then go for it!

I then decided to have some real fun and create custom folder icons for TV shows I have recorded through EyeTV. You could just as easily create custom icons for your favourite bands, or anything else.

Custom folder icons

How about folder icons for your favourite TV shows?

iconCompo has a lot more features than I have described here. For example you can alter the pitch and angle of each layer, you can add text (written in any direction), and of course you don’t just have to create custom folder icons – you can combine any two images you like. Your imagination is your only limit.

Auo-renewal… they’re at it again!

After the aggravation I went through when Webroot wanted to auto-renew my Webroot SpySweeper license, I thought I had said goodbye to all of that. Well now PCTools is on my case to… yes you’ve guessed it, automatically renew my license for Registry Mechanic.

“We hope you’ve enjoyed your subscription to PC Tools Registry Mechanic and trust it has been a valuable tool in protecting your privacy and security in the past year. We’ve made some significant changes to Registry Mechanic in the last 12 months. To read about all the benefits and features available for Registry Mechanic click here. To ensure you have the latest version of Registry Mechanic, click here.

We see from our records that your subscription to Registry Mechanic is due to end on June 22, 2009. Based on your current auto-renewal status, we will renew your subscription to Registry Mechanic using the account information you provided. This is scheduled to occur approximately on June 02, 2009 and there is no further action required on your part.”

Great! However, nowhere in the email does it even mention the fact that I might not want to renew! So off to the website I go, and login to my account. After ten minutes of searching – nothing. The FAQs tell me everything except how to cancel the auto-renewal. Nowhere is there a button or a link labelled ‘Click here if you wish to cancel your auto-renewal’. I mean it would be so simple to do, but I guess they’d rather make it difficult by either leaving details of how to cancel off the website altogether or burying the information so deep you stand little hope of finding it.Closest I got was a page showing me my Registry Mechanic license details, with a promising field labelled ‘Subscription status:’ followed by the words ‘Active – auto renewal set (modify)’ and the word modify was a link… great! Oh… all it does is take me back to the page showing me the license details. Dead end.

As of today – Saturday May 23rd at 15:30 GMT I have posted a ‘general enquiry’ using the form on the PCTools website, asking them to cancel the renewal. Let’s see how this one goes.

So, if you are switching to a Mac, make sure you get on top of any automated renewals for Windows software you’ve purchased in the past because the general approach these companies take seems to be to make it difficult or at least very onerous to cancel. If you are one of said companies, then PLEASE do two things:

  1. Make ‘automated renewal’ an opt-in choice, rather than forcing people to sign up for auto renewal when they buy your software.
  2. Make it clear, easy and straightforward for people who do want to cancel.

Now why do I get the feeling that last plea will fall on deaf ears…?

UPDATE

Hats off to PCTools – they emailed me within 24 hours to confirm that they have cancelled the automated renewal as follows:

After reading your email, I understand that you wish to cancel your automatic renewal for Registry Mechanic.

We have now processed your request to cancel the automatic renewal for your subscription. For your records, your Registry Mechanic subscription is active until 22-Jun-2009.

Please note that you may receive a reminder notice via email towards the end of your subscription period regarding renewals.

Note:  Should you wish to renew your subscription manually, you may do so by following the link below:

If you require further assistance on this specific request, please reply to this email.

Kind Regards,

Sure it would have been nice if there was actually a ‘cancel my subscription’ button somewhere on their website, but at least they responded quickly and I would have no hesitation in recommending them to Windows users who need such software.