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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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

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…

Macbitz Musings – Netbooks

I have read lots of posts from people who seem to have a genuine requirement for something larger than an iPhone/iPod Touch and yet smaller than the 13″ MacBook to use for basic web and PDA duties. There are also lots of rumours that Apple is preparing to enter this market, but that they have said they’ll only consider it when they can “do it properly”.

I wondered what “do it properly” meant and it wasn’t until I started using an MSI Wind 100 netbook that I started to realize. As devices go it really is not something I’d want to buy or use on a regular basis. The screen seemed relatively clear but that’s about where the usability experience ended. The touchpad is miniscule, and the two buttons below it that act as mouse buttons – talk about needing a firm press… if they don’t give you RSI then nothing will! As for build quality, well the whole thing has a plasticy cheap feel to it and I can’t imagine it’s that robust.

While I don’t personally have a need for a netbook, it will be interesting to see what Apple do in this space.

Oh and a final word about the new ‘2009’ Mac Pro. The Quad-Core 2.66GHz version can ‘only’ take a maximum of 8Gb of RAM, compared to the 32Gb max on the 8-Core model. Shame… (I run multiple concurrent VMs on my 2008 model that require 2Gb of RAM each).

Pandora Radio… In the UK… On a Mac (sort of)

picture-1I was a big fan of Pandora Radio when it started out. Both before and since I have tried music recommendation systems, including the new iTunes Genius, but I never found one that seemed to hit the mark better than Pandora. There was something about the way they analyzed the music (something they referred to as the Genome project) that made their recommendations very good – certainly in my case. and in the space of a year I must have bought about 12 CDs based on new music I heard on Pandora.

In their infinite wisdom, the various record labels and authorities decided that allowing me to listen to a radio station in the States given that I live in the UK, was a somehow damaging their profits and the sad day eventually came when I got the Pandora email saying they had been obliged to block listeners from anywhere outside the US. Go figure! So I put up with it and went on my merry way, but every so often I’d see a story about Pandora and I eventually started to miss discovering new artists so I set about looking for a way to solve my problem.

picture-2
In essence the trick was to access Pandora via a service that would disguise my ‘UK’ IP address and make it appear as though I was just another user in the States. Trouble is, many of the services that do this either require some sort of monthly subscription or require you to download and install fairly invasive software. I did try a few in the latter category, including Firefox add-ons, but most didn’t work either relaibly or at all with Pandora. I eventually discovered HotSpot Shield and before long I was enjoying Pandora again.

Now HotSpot Shield falls into the category of ‘free’ installed software. You download a small client package (PC/Mac) which you install and there it sits doing absolutely nothing – until you need it, which is exactly what I wanted as I didn’t want my everyday browsing interfered with. I tried out the Mac version and it worked well enough, but given my lack of familiarity with OS X I eventually plumped for running the Windows version inside a small VMware Fusion session. So I set up a minimal Windows XP virtual machine 512Mb, single processor, and as small a hard disk as I could manage, patched it with the thousands of XP fixes you need then installed HotSpot Shield and that was it. Now every time I want to listen to Pandora I just fire up Fusion, load the little VM, load IE7 go to Pandora and I’m away. HotSpot Shield make their money by placing a small add in a frame at the top of your browser window. It’s fairly unobtrusive plus you have the option to close it anyway.

So, I’m happily listening to Pandora and discovering and buying new music again. What could be better? Maybe the record labels seeing sense and removing this daft restriction?!

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!