Sharing external drives on a Mac

In my travels around the web I’ve seen a number of posts from people having problems sharing external hard drives on their Macs. Typically the person is saying that they have shared one or more drives using the Sharing option under System Preferences, but that they can’t see those drives from another Mac on the network. Without beating about the bush too much, the answer to how you share a Mac disk (external or otherwise) is dependant on how the disk has been formatted.

If your disk uses the Mac OS Extended or Mac OS Extended (Journaled) scheme, then you can share the disk with other Macs on the network using AFP, which is the default when you choose file sharing in the System Preferences. You would then connect to that disk from other Macs by typing in something like afp://ip.address.goes.here/Volume_Name.

SMB file sharing

SMB file sharing

However, if your disk has been formatted using FAT32 for example, then you have to share it using SMB. To do that, open System Preferences and go to the Sharing option. In the list of things you can share choose File Sharing then click on the Options button and tick the box that says Share files and folders using SMB. All that remains is to set the security you want and you’re off. You can then connect to the shared drive across the nework from another Mac or even a Windows machine using smb://ip.address.goes.here/Volume_Name.

I won’t go in to the ins and outs of which one’s better or how to set up security as that’s for you to get in to if you want to. For my part I have a Mac Mini that has two 500Gb external drives attached. One is formatted using Mac OS Extended and is shared with my Mac Pro using AFP. The other drive on the Mini is formatted using FAT32 and isn’t shared but is used simply to mirror the contents of the Mac OS Extended external drive so that should I ever need to physically connect it to a Windows machine and read the contents, I have that option (as Windows machines can’t read the Mac OS Extended file system).

Job done 😉

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Hopes of an Apple-friendly server fade a little…

The repeated and random disconnects I’ve been getting between my Mac Pro and my Windows 2003 Server shares prompted me to look at alternatives. My Kalyway project ended as abruptly as it started. I managed to install it on an old Asus A7N8X-Delux based machine but not long after I was experiencing kernel panics and had to give it up as a bad bet.

The next plan was to use FreeNAS which would let me access disks on the ‘server’ as AFP shares. The fact that FreeNAS only truly supports it’s own proprietary file system, and warns of dire consequences when using FAT or EXT did put me off a little, but I was prepared to stick it out. Unfortunately the next problem was a little more severe. I was testing backups from my Mac to the FreeNAS box by repeatedly copying 100Gb or so of data to it, then copying it back to the Mac and comparing it to make sure it was the same. Then deleting it off the NAS box and starting over again. All of a sudden I was getting messages that the backup job was unable to create folders on the target drive. I checked all the usual suspects but found the only way to get things going again was to reformat the FreeNAS data drives and start over. Third time round the loop I decided to give up. I’m sure with more investigation I might get to the bottom of this, but not being a Linux guru makes me nervous about entrusting my precious data to something I understand even less that Mac OS X or Windows 2003 Server.

So it’s looking more likely that I’ll invest in a basic Mac Mini, hang two 500Gb USB drives off it and use that as my backup server. That of course leaves me with two 500Gb SATA drives ‘spare’ from my Windows server box. Now I have seen a PowerMac G5 up for sale that’s got space for two internal SATA drives, has lots more memory than the Mac Mini, and is cheaper by about £100. It’s a PowerPC model dating back a couple of years but it’s good enough to run Leopard and it’ll let me use all my spare internal and external drives.

I could of course buy another D-Link DNS323 NAS box. Despite it getting mixed reviews, my one has been incredibly reliable (famous last words), then I’d have to hang the two external drives off the Mac Pro.

Decisions, decisions…

Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro

Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro

Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro

Some time back, I bought a Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 for my Windows PC and ultimately moved it on to my Mac when that became my ‘main’ machine. It worked pretty well a few notable exceptions – the ‘intelligent face tracking’, RightSound and digital zoom features didn’t work (as these required the Windows software to work), and the camera’s built-in mike didn’t work with OS X’s speech recognition, although it worked fine with other OS X applications like Skype. Other than that I was pretty pleased with the results, and friends in Skype commented on how clear and sharp the picture was.

In the continuing story of Logitech realizing there’s a world outside Windows, they released the QuickCam Vision Pro which is essentially the exact same camera but for the Mac. In my usual way, I justified to myself that I could relegate the Pro 9000 back to my Windows PC and buy a shiny new Vision Pro with all it’s juicy Mac-goodness.

Now if I were a synical person I’d say that all they’ve done is put a new silver bezel on the front of the Pro 9000, changed the activity light from orange to white, and shipped it out without any software, so it should be slightly cheaper right? No, even without the extra features of it’s Windows sibling it costs the same, so is it a good buy?

What's in the box?

What's in the box?

Well the picture is as good as ever, naturally as the lens etc., is exactly the same. The RightLight feature adjusts the exposure to compensate for bright or dark situations pretty well, and the microphone while working fine with Skype, still refuses to work properly with the OS X speech recognition system. If you look in the Apple support forums you’ll see there are lots of users complaining about their Logitech cameras not  working with OS X’s built-in speech recognition. The other slightly worrying thing is that while the QuickCam Pro 9000 was actually recognized by OS X as a ‘Logitech Camera’, this Mac-specific version shows up simply as ‘unknown USB audio device’ – not terribly helpful, and perhaps indicative of what you’re getting.

So it boils down to two questions really – which one to buy if you’re a Mac user? Well if I’m honest, either one will serve you just fine. If like me, your webcam is going to sit on top of a monitor in a reasonably well lit room, then the RightLight technology is pretty much superfluous, and there’s little else to separate the two in everyday use. In fact if you own a Windows PC as well as a Mac then you can use the Pro 900 on either with good results. Similarly, if you already use the QuickCam Pro 9000 on your Mac is it worth changing to the QuickCam Vision Pro? In that case I would say it’s a definite ‘No’. The product smacks a little bit of Logitech just jumping on the Mac bandwagon by re-badging a Windows product. How difficult would it have been for them to port the face-tracking and digital zoom software feature across to the Mac? Likewise, had they ensured the built-in mike actually worked with OS X’s speech recognition feature, the camera would have been all the more useful.

No software required!

No software required!

I get the same impression with Logitech’s Mac version of the DiNovo Edge keyboard. It’s a Windows product that they’ve dumbed down and rebadged for the Mac community.

Still, I guess they’re showing willing which is more than some companies are doing.

Making sense of Spaces with dual monitors

From my days of running a PC and a Mac side-by-side, I am lucky enough to still have a 22″ and a 24″ monitor sitting on my desk. The PC is hooked up to the 22″ Samsung but rarely gets switched on these days, while the Mac Pro is hooked up to both.

Two screens

Two screens

As I work from home a lot of the time, I wanted to have my work desktop running in a VMware Fusion virtual machine and visible all the time on the 22″ monitor. On the 24″ screen I wanted to use the option to use Spaces so that I could flick between various Mac applications when I felt like it. However, by simply dragging the VMware window to the 22″ screen and then choosing to switch Spaces on the main screen, I found the picture on the 22″ screen would disappear!

The reason for this is that when you use Spaces on a dual monitor setup, it couples your monitors together in each space, so in essence Spaces is running on both screens. What’s more you can’t choose which space gets displayed on each monitor, so if you are looking at ‘Space #1’ on one monitor, then ‘Space #1’ will also display on the second monitor. So looking at the above scenario, I run say Firefox in Space #1 on my 24″ then load up VMware also in Space #1 on the 24″ before dragging it across to the 22″. Now let’s say I want to run Spore in a Window in Space #2 on the 24″ screen. As soon as I switch to Space #2 on the big screen, the smaller screen also switches to Space #2 and my VMware window in Space #1 vanishes from sight!

Got all that?  😉

Mac OS X Leopard doesn’t let you run Spaces on just one monitor in a dual-head setup, but I eventually figured out the solution which is as follows:

  1. Go to your System Preferences and enable Spaces.
  2. Now, in the box in the middle of the Spaces settings that says Application Assignments, add an application using the + button.
  3. Just navigate to the chosen program in your Applications folder.
  4. Now the trick here is in the Space column to choose Every Space from the picklist.

Now, with VMware running in Space #1 and displayed on the 22″ screen, whichever Space I choose on the 24″ monitor, VMware will remain visible on the 22″ screen and won’t disappear like before. My only gripe with this solution is that as you invoke Spaces and are shown the ‘navigation’ view, it displays on both monitors. It’s only a minor niggle though because as soon as you choose which Space you want, both screens return to normal and my VMware work desktop is still in full view.

So until Apple update OS X and allow you to run Spaces on just one monitor, this is a reasonable workaround. At least I can now surf the web, catch up on newsfeeds and conquer the galaxy all while keeping an eye on the IM client and email on my work desktop!

Orange UK – O2’s best salesman?

Orange SPV C500

Orange SPV C500

When it comes to mobile phones, I always thought my needs were fairly straightforward. Two phone numbers so I can separate work and personal calls, and Windows Mobile so I can easily sync with Outlook where I’ve always maintained my calendar and contact lists. I don’t do email, video-calling, photography or anything else exotic, so that’s simple right?

Well I’ve been an Orange UK customer since 1997 and not long after that took advantage of their ‘Line 2’ offering – that’s two phone numbers on one handset/SIM card. The phone receives calls on both lines automatically, and by simply pressing and holding the # key I can choose which line I want to make calls on. It’s a great idea… but unfortunately one that never took off for some reason, probably because my ‘Line 2’ number costs me just £5 a month, far less lucrative for Orange than selling me a second handset and contract (which is what they’re now trying to do). Still, it works for me, and while the Windows Mobile 2003 OS on my trusty old SPV C500 phone isn’t brilliant, it gets the job done. Incidentally, the C500 was a cool handset in it’s day, trust me. These days, compared with all these ‘razr’ thin, touch screen, mp3 playing, video calling 5mp camera phones, it’s about as cool as walking into a bar with your fly open!

CalGoo

CalGoo

Anyway, since switching to the Mac I’ve been wondering what I should do about my Windows-centric calendaring. My problem is, it’s one of those things I’ve got set up in Windows that just works, so I’ve settled for the Mac being the ‘slave’ so to speak. Courstesy of Calgoo Connect I now sync my Outlook calendar across to Google’s gCal and from there on to iCal. It works a treat, I can add entries in Windows, on the Mac or on my phone and they all painlessly arrive everywhere else. Great! So where is this all going? Well a few months ago the asterisk key on my 3 year old phone stopped working. Perhaps not a major issue, but when you’re trying to join a conference call and you have to enter ‘*’ before and after your PIN code – that’s a major headache. Still, I was well overdue for a handset upgrade so I called Orange thinking I’d have a shiny new Windows Mobile handset before long…

Almost an hour later I was feeling like I’d been totally screwed over by them. You see while they still provide the Line 2 facility to those customers who signed up for it, they no longer offer it to new customers. Based on that premise, they don’t supply any new Windows Mobile handsets that support the feature, and their suggestions weren’t well thought out at all. So, if like me you’re an Orange UK customer who has a Windows Mobile handset and the ‘Line 2’ facility, prepare yourself because this is what they said…

Option One – Upgrade to a Blackberry handset. It’s not Windows Mobile but it does support Line 2. However, you MUST subscribe to Blackberry’s data service at an ADDITIONAL MONTHLY COST, regardless of whether you want it or not. It’s a condition of the contract. Personally I don’t want the service, and didn’t see why I should pay for it – as I said, I don’t do email on my phone.

Option Two – Split the Line 2 number out to a new contract and buy a second handset. I my case that would mean switching from paying £30 a month plus calls on one contract, to paying £45 a month plus calls on TWO contracts. I’d also have to pay £69 for a new HTC Touch Diamond Windows Mobile handset on my original contract, and a whopping £250 for another of the same handsets on the new second contract. I said I’d consider it if they gave me two new handsets for free. They said no. Ok, how about £69 for the two handsets. They said no again. I even went as far as saying I’d pay £69 for each new handset. They still said no. They were adamant that I’d have to pay almost £320 in total for the two handsets, and they weren’t going to budge.

HTC Touch Diamond

HTC Touch Diamond

I thought it entirely reasonable that if they were forcing me to have two handsets, then I should be allowed to have two the same. That way I wouldn’t have to install new software alongside the ActiveSync that I already have installed and working, plus if I had occasion to only have one handset on me, then it would still have all the features I needed. No, Orange didn’t think that was a reasonable expectation. In the end I just thought if they could hear themselves, they would realise how inconsiderate they were being.

In the end, they refused to make any concession whatsoever and I had no choice but to request a disconnection code for both phone lines. I hadn’t planed on leaving Orange UK, but if they are going to be that difficult then all I can do is to vote with my feet.

So, all this has left me wondering – where now? Maybe I’ll have to abandon my two phone numbers on one phone and join the poor souls who have to carry two handsets around. That being the case, there’s no reason not to go down the high street shop around. The new iPhone 3G looks mighty tempting as a ‘main’ handset, and I could make the Mac the centre of my calendaring universe. Problem is, I’m not yet comfortable with being able to recover my calendar and

iPhone 3G

iPhone 3G

address book on the Mac in the event of disaster. In Outlook 2007 I know exactly how to backup and recover the data files, I’ve even done it several times when reinstalling Windows. The Mac? Hmmmm, I know the principles, but somehow I feel that if I had to recover my calendar files to a new Mac, I’d need more than Time Machine to accomplish this. But then if the data is sync’ed to Google via Calgoo Connect – then I’m sorted, I just re-install the Calgoo software and sync it back!

The irony is that if I wanted an iPhone 3G now, I’d have to jump ship to O2. But if I were to hang on until later this year, Orange UK may be selling the iPhone if the rumours are true… 😉

PS – Calgoo Connect is available for Mac OS X and Windows, and it’s now free!

PPS – Yes I know there’s MobileMe, but it costs upwards of £60 a year, and it still doesn’t work properly.

Google Calendar Sync the culprit?

Another chapter in the search for calendar synchronization that works. Having switched off all my calendar connectors and having cleared up all the duplicates, I enabled Google’s own Calendar Sync utility and let it do it’s thing. Suddenly I had about three years worth of calendar events duplicated all over my Outlook 2007 calendar! Just out of interest I deleted one of the duplicated entries and asked Google Calandar Sync to run again. This time it warned me that I was about to delete 17 entries out of my Google calendar, which I let it do.

Then without adding, deleting or changing any events in any calendar, I ran Google Calendar Sync again. This time it warned me it was going to delete 18 entries from Google. Where on earth has it got these 18 new deletions from?! The version of Google Calendar Sync that I’m using (that I have always used in fact) is the one that’s supposed to have this issue fixed. By ‘issue’ I mean the problem of it causing duplicates when you are using other connectors to sync Google calendar with other calendars, like CompanionLink and Calgoo Connect for example.

I am almost at the point of giving up on this whole calendar synchonization game. My next task is to try and remove all the duplicates from Outlook. I’m hoping I can find a utility somewhere as the thought of spending hours manually clearing up three years worth of entries is somewhat daunting. The problem I then face is how this duplicate removal will then propagate from Outlook into Google and then into Notes and iCal/Entourage.

I don’t eny me!

Which? Magazine on video editing software

Final Cut ExpressI’ve been a long time subscriber to the Consumer Association’s Which? magazine. For advice on a wide range of things they save you the trouble (and costly mistakes) when it comes to buying a range of products and services. Every so often they test computer related items and I’ve learned that they sometimes miss the ball a bit in this field, and lack the depth of many computer publications.

I was therefore interested to see that in the July 2008 issue they reviewed video editing software along with digital camcorders. I flicked through to page 56 thinking it’s a foregone conclusion, I already know which program will win. I was wrong! The top four packages were:

  1. Adobe Premiere Elements 4 (Windows)
  2. Sony Vegas Movie Studio 8 (Windows)
  3. Corel Ulead Video Studio 11.5 Plus (Windows)
  4. Magix Movie Edt Pro 14 Plus (Windows)

There was also mention of Windows Movie Maker Vista Version and Windows Movie Maker (PC) or iMovie 08 (Mac) as good free alternatives. Well at least the Mac got a look in with iLife 08, but that was it. Final Cut Express 4.0 didn’t even get a mention, in fact they didn’t even include it in the review, wheras they reviewed a variety of Windows packages I’ve never even heard of.

I find it hard to take a review of Video Editing software seriously when it includes just one Mac offering. It seems to show a lack of awareness of the computer market, Apple’s rapidly expanding market share, and the Mac’s acknowledged role as a great platform for all manner of media applications, not just video editing. This just serves to reinforce my belief that if you want reviews of computer software then listen to computer experts.