Entries Tagged as 'Mac'

Desktop Sharing

Maybe I’ve become spoiled, but I just expect desktop sharing (remote control) to be easy and fast.

Nothing, absolutely nothing compares to Microsoft’s RDP; and virtually any Windows machine (except home editions) can be accessed remotely via RDP; and all Windows machines and Macs can access a remote Windows machine.

Apple has their own Remote Desktop Client, and it works well — but it’s far from free (OUCH, far from free).  And Apple does build in VNC into OS-X (can you say dismally slow)… but they don’t provide any Windows client.

Linux and other *nix operating system you can use an X session remotely; or VNC (zzzzzzzzzzzzz again, slow).

As a “universal” desktop sharing solution VNC isn’t horrible (and it’s certainly priced right, and there’s plenty of different ports and builds of it to choose from), but it’s old school and old technology.

I personally think it would be a great standard to have an efficient remote desktop sharing standard, that all computers (and PDAs) could use… one ring — eh, got carried away there; one client could talk to any server, and operating system vendors would only need optimize their server and their client, other operating system vendors would do the same…

Originally posted 2009-02-23 01:00:41.

Thinking Inside the VirtualBox

Sun Microsystems used to be a major player in the computer world; and I guess since Java belongs to Sun they are still a a fairly major force…

There’s a number of open source or free projects that Sun sponsors:

And, of course, it’s VirtualBox that has inspired this post.

VirtualBox 2.0.4 released on 24 October 2008, and from my initial experiences with it, it’s a contender.

A fairly mature x86/x64 virtualization framework for x86/x64 platforms.  VirtualBox runs on Windows, OS-X, Linux, and of course Solaris.

What sets it apart — well it’s to my knowledge the only fairly mature cross-platform virtualization framework that’s FREE on all platforms.

In general it doesn’t require hardware virtualization support with the exception that to run a x64 guest you must be on an x64 host with hardware virtualization.

Going through the list of features and playing with it there’s really nothing I couldn’t find that it didn’t do (and in playing with it, it seemed to work well)… the one feature that VirtualBox supports that none of it’s competitors had last time I looked (and that Hyper-V is sorely missing) is SATA (AHCI – Advanced Host Controller Interface) support… that provides much more efficient emulation of disk channel connections to the guest (and thus much better performance — and if you recall from my post on Hyper-V the fact that Microsoft doesn’t have SCSI boot support or AHCI support at all is what prevents me from moving to Hyper-V).

VirtualBox does apparently support VMWare virtual disks, but not Microsoft virtual disks (both of them provide open specifications, so my only conclusion is that Sun’s anti-Microsoft bias is at play which is sad since VirtualPC, Virtual Server, and Hyper-V account for a fairly substantial segment of the market, and a growing segment).

Like any product, you really need to carefully evaluate it based on your needs, but my feeling is that certainly for Mac users this might be the choice if you don’t want to by Parallels Desktop… and for Windows desktops this looks to be a very good.

NOTES:

On Windows if you want to use this on a server host machine (ie one that doesn’t require users to control the virtual machine) VirtualBox doesn’t really provide any interface for controlling machines in this manner; however, you can launch a VirtualBox machine from the command line, so you can have your server start up VirtualBox sessions at boot… though there are no tools provided by VirtualBox for managing running instances started this way.  My recommendation is that the VirtualBox team add a tool to manage and launch instances in a server environment.

On Windows (and other OSs) the way VirtualBox handles host networking (the default is a NAT’d network through the host… which could have some performance impact) is buy using the TUN/TAP driver.  Certainly they way Microsoft handles virtualization of the network adapter is far slicker, and I found that using host networking is not as reliable as NAT; hopefully this is an area where there will be some improvement.

Lastly, I haven’t run any actual performance tests head-to-head with  Parallels, VMWare, VirtualPC, and Virtual Server… but I can tell you that guests “feel” substantially faster running under VirtualBox (I was quite impressed — and surprised).


VirtualBox

Originally posted 2008-12-08 12:00:55.

Windows Mail (Vista)

Microsoft has several generations and families of email programs.

  • Outlook is targeted for the corporate market, and until recently the only viable choice for Windows if you wanted to keep “PIM” data (and still the only choice if you want to synchronize with a mobile device — but hopefully that will change).
  • Outlook Express became Windows Mail on Vista and Windows Live Mail if you want to run the same program on different operating systems (or you want to interface to Hotmail / MSN / Live accounts and don’t want to pay for enhanced services).
  • Entourage is the email program for the Macintosh.

I actually use all of the Microsoft email programs for different tasks:

I need Outlook to synchronize my Moto Q and Moto KRZR (actually I don’t have to use Outlook for the KRZR, but there aren’t any options for the Q).

I use Outlook Express, Windows Mail, and Windows Live Mail for various tasks; and I use Entourage on my Macs (I also use Apple iMail, but I’m haven’t drank Steve Job’s kool-aid, so I prefer to choose the program I like the best).

One of the downsides I’ve found with the Microsoft email programs in the Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail family is that they’re so busy changing the name and interface that they don’t focus on making it work.

At one time Microsoft did IMAP much better than any other email reader; unfortunately, the bugs they had years ago, they still have — and most of the other email readers have gotten better.

The two problems I see over and over and over with Windows Mail (and the other’s in it’s family) deal with subscribing to IMAP folders.  Here’s some scenarios you might be familiar with:

You create a new mail folder and you get an error; you try to create it again and it tells you that it already exists, but can’t be shown.  I haven’t figured out what’s happening here, but I do know that the IMAP server creates the folder, and sets the subscribed FLAG (and that other email clients have no problem with the folder); but for some reason Windows Mail refuses to show it (and will continue to refuse to show it even if you delete the account and recreate it).

The only work around to this I’ve found is creating a folder with a single character in it’s name, and renaming it to what you want (that seems to always work — but if you recreate the account you might find that some folders aren’t listed any longer).

The other thing I’ve found that Microsoft hasn’t fixed is cleaning up the local message store (I have no clue what they do when the compact the database, but it doesn’t seem to really achieve the desired goal).  What I do here is I export my accounts, remove the accounts, shut down Windows Mail, then delete the left over message store.  Start up Windows Mail, import the accounts, and then let it re-download the information from the server.  This works well for me, since most of my messages are on a local server (for archival); and I don’t keep much on remote servers (so it really doesn’t take that long), and it keeps the size of the local cache down to something manageable (you will really notice what a poor job Microsoft does on cleaning up the local IMAP store when you defragment your disk with a tool that shows you what is going on).

To find your local data stores, you can use any of the following paths:

  • %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Mail
  • C:\Users\%USERNAME%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Mail
  • %LOCALAPPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows Mail

 The folder for the IMAP store should match the display name (well — it may be what Windows Mail originally chose for you, but the first time you do an export / import you will get the name you chose — and that’s a good reason to do this once right after creating the account).

__________

If you want to know my opinion on which email program from Microsoft is the “best” — well hands down it’s Entourage.  Why they don’t use that as a model to build an email program for Windows is beyond me — and why they don’t use common code for all their email programs and actually fix the bugs they have rather than continuing to change the name and look is also beyond me.

I would say you’re better off using Mozilla Thunderbird, but it still crashes with an IMAP store as large as mine.

I guess I could just start using my Mac for all my email.  But seriously, if you know of good options I’d love to hear from you.

Originally posted 2009-02-09 01:00:35.

GIMP

GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.

It has many capabilities. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc.

GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily scripted.

That’s what the GIMP site says; but what GIMP is is a free Open Source alternative to programs like Adobe Photoshop and Corel Paint Shop Pro that runs on Linux, OS-X, and Windows.

GIMP is reasonably easy to use, powerful, and rock solid.

If you understand the principles of image/photo editing you’ll be a pro at using GIMP in no time — far easier to use than Photoshop, far more functional than Paint Shop Pro.  And it’s free — totally free — just download it an install it.  There’s lots of plug-ins for it as well (so make sure you take a look at some of those add ins).  Be sure and review the online documentation, tutorials, and FAQ; plus there are a number of well written books on GIMP available for purchase.

GIMP.org

Originally posted 2010-03-08 02:00:45.

Defragmenting

There are many people out there that say that *nix and Mac file systems don’t fragment — only Windows does.

They’re dead wrong.

[I know I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again]

All three file systems (and in Windows we’re talking about NTFS, not FAT) derive from the same basic file system organization, and all three have pretty much the same characteristics (there are differences, but those really have nothing to do with the likelihood of fragmentation).

Fragmentation is just a by-product of the way a file system works.  The file system must make decisions about how to lay files down on the disk, and since it doesn’t have a crystal ball it cannot see the future.  Thus is a file is pinned between two other files and it must grow, the file would either need to be moved (creating an empty spot of a maximum size) or extended in another area (thus being fragmented).

There are various schemes for handling file allocations, but most of them rely on an application that is creating the file giving the operating system (and thus file system) sufficient information on the files maximum size and hints as to whether it is temporary, may grow, etc.

Given that file systems will fragment, the need for defragmentation is real.  Windows recognizes this (mainly because Windows used to use a FAT file system where fragmentation caused severe performance issues).

If you have a *nix or Mac based system, I’m sure you can locate a reasonably good defragmenter (not every one is in denial about the need for periodically defragmenting the system).  If you have  Windows based system you already have a reasonably good defragmenter that came with the systems (a “lite” version of Executive Systems Diskeeper, which now just goes by the name of Diskeeper Corporation).  You can, of course, purchase a number of commercial products, like the full blown Diskeeper, O&O Defrag (my personal favorite), or download a host of free or inexpensive products.

The key to defragmenting your system is knowing when you should invest the time (and wear on your disks).  The most accurate answer would be when system fragmentation reaches a point where it adversely effects performance.  That seems a little vague, but most of the defragmentation tools actually will do an analysis and advise you if they should be run.  Some of them have active defragmentation (but like the file system, they don’t have a crystal ball, and will often cost performance, not enhance it — so I would just say no to active defragmentation).

A good rule of thumb is that right after you install you system, or any time you install major updates or service packs you should defragment your system.  It’s a good idea to clean off temporary files (like your browser cache, etc) before you defragment.  And you might even want to clean off old restore points (if you have them enabled).

There’s certainly no reason to defragment your system daily or weekly; but an occasional night of running your defragmenter of choice will likely decrease boot time and increase overall system performance.

One other little tid-bit — remove your paging file before defragmenting; then after you’re finished, create a new paging file of a fixed size (ie set the minimum and maximum to the same thing).  That way you have a nicely defragmented paging file that will not cause fragmentation or fragment itself (leading to better system performance).  Of course, if your system has enough memory to run without a paging file, you don’t need one at all.

Originally posted 2010-02-21 01:00:20.

VirtualBox on OS-X

After the extremely poor experience with my upgrade to vmware Fusion 2.0.1 I can certainly tell you that VirtualBox was a totally satisfying experience.

First, VirtualBox doesn’t have all the whizzy features that vmware Fusion has; but the only thing I really care about is being able to reliably run a virtual machine.  I don’t need all the features that I don’t use and don’t ever work right — all I really care about is reliability.

The user interface for VirtualBox is clean and simple (though I would recommend you spend a little time looking at all the options for VirtualBox and the settings for virtual machines before you get too carried away).

The documentation and FAQs are excellent.  They cover almost every question that came to my mind before I started (including how you could move a vmware machine to VirtualBox if you wanted to).

Since VirtualBox emulates an Intel SATA AHCI controller, it’s very simple to install XP or 2003 (I actually did both) using IDE drives and then switch over to SATA AHCI (which improves performance).  In fact, all you need to is enable the SATA controller in the machine configuration, start the machine, install the Intel Matrix drivers, shut down the machine, change the connection of the drive from IDE to SATA channel 0, and start the machine… couldn’t be easier.

The only feature I would like to see in VirtualBox is support for more than one processor.  And I guess it would also be nice to see 64-bit support on the Mac (but I don’t use 64-bit virtual machines right now, and that’s something that’s already support by other hosts, so it isn’t far off).

And the only gripe I have with VirtualBox thus far is there doesn’t seem to be a good way to share virtual machine configuration files (well — a soft link would do it).  I guess this isn’t a huge issue since it’s not something that most people would probably want to do (but I do).

At the price (FREE) you just can’t beat it.  VirtualBox works, and it seems to work well.

With vmware releasing code that isn’t fit to be taken out of a garbage can; Microsoft chipping away at the high end of vmware’s market; and everyone giving away virtualization software for the desktop you’ve got to wonder how long vmware can survive.  And frankly, I don’t care — I’ve tossed my copy of Fusion away just like I did my copy of VMware Workstation.  Microsoft provides me with perfectly function virtualization hosting software on all versions of Windows; Xen provides it on *nix; and VirtualBox provides me with a reasonable solution on OS-X (and I’m betting on Apple incorporating Xen or something like soon).

My next task is copying my machines from my MacBook (where I tested VirtualBox) to my two Mac Minis and my Mac Pro… looks straight forward.

Originally posted 2009-02-07 01:00:54.

7-Zip

I’ve written about 7-Zip before; but since we’re on the verge of a significant improvement I felt it was time to highlight it again.

7-Zip is a file archiver written by Igor Pavlov.  Originally only available for Windows, but now available for most every operating system.

7-Zip was one of the first archiving tools to include LZMA (Lempel-Ziv-Markov chain algorithm); and consistently demonstrated much higher compression ratios at much higher compression rates than any other compression scheme.

The next release of 7-Zip (9.10) will include LZMA2.

The source code for the LZMA SDK has been put into the public domain, and is freely available for use in other products.  The SDK includes the main line C++ course, ANSI-C compatible LZMA and XV source code; C#  LZMA compression and decompression source code; Java LZMA compression and decompression source code; as well as other source code.

You can read all the features of LZMA as well as download the Windows version of 7-Zip and locate links for pZip for *nix operating systems.  You can also do a search for tvx or vx for *nix based systems as well.

This is the only archive utility you need; it would have been nice had Microsoft chosen to base the folder compression in Windows 7 on the LZMA SDK, or at least made it easy to replace the compression module; but 7-Zip installs a Windows shell extension so you have a separate (though confusing for some) menu item for compression and decompression.

http://www.7-zip.org/

Originally posted 2010-01-21 01:00:14.

Elive – Luxury Linux

I’ll have to start my post off with what may seam like a very unfair comment; and it may be.

I’ll prefix this with I don’t ever feel comfortable with individuals or companies who try and charge for Open Source software when they don’t offer anything tangible for that money, and they don’t allow (and encourage) you to try out what you’re going paying for before you are asked to pay for it.

Elive falls squarely into this category.

You cannot download a “stable” version of Elive unless you make some donation (I believe $10 is the minimum donation) from the publishers site (you certainly can find torrents and ftp links to download it from other sites if you’re willing to put a few minutes into it).

Strictly my opinion; but I suspect the publisher realizes that no one would ever pay him for a “stable” version of Elive because what he passes off as stable isn’t.

When Elive boots, it’s striking, and all the applications that are installed with it seem to work nicely.  The interface, while not 100% Mac-like, is intuitive and easy to use…

So why start with such a strong negative stand?

Easy, Elive just isn’t stable.  It’s mostly form with little function.

What’s included on the CD seems to work fairly well, but start updating components or installing additional software (the VirtualBox guest additions started me on the road to ruin) and then the trouble starts… laughingly you have an environment with the stability of Windows 9x on junker hardware rather than OS-X (or Linux).

I suspect that the failing of Elive is that it isn’t a collaborative project of many people; nor is it a commercial venture from a publisher with the resources to adequately test it.

I simply wouldn’t pursue it the way it’s being pursued — but I like quality, and would simply not be comfortable asking for donations from people who will probably end up not being able to use the version they donated to (and there’s no mention that you get upgrades for life for free or only need donate again when you feel you’ve gotten something of substance).

My advice… look at the free “unstable” build, play with it, make it do what you want it to do — when it crashes move on; don’t expect a great deal more from the “stable”.

Hopefully, though, others will look at Elive and see the potential and we’ll see another distribution that is every bit as flashy and way more stable.

Elive

Originally posted 2010-01-04 01:00:17.

Macs Don’t Have The Problems PCs Do!

And I have a bridge for sale…

I’m sure you’ve heard your friend the Mac bigot tell you this and that about the Mac is better.

You know, the file system doesn’t fragment, it doesn’t crash, it’s easy to use, software uninstalls properly…

I’ve talked about fragmentation before; and there’s no reason to cover that ground again.  As to it doesn’t crash, well… you don’t see the sad Mac or the bomb any more — but it crashes, sometimes you get a kernel panic, sometimes it just reboots (I’ve seen both)…

But the really amusing thing is the software uninstall myth.

That’s a load of CRAP.  The real problem is most Mac user’s wouldn’t know if software uninstalled or not — as long as the entry disappears from the Applications folder they think it’s been uninstalled.

Open up a “Terminal” window and ‘sudo bash’ — then have a look around at all the garbage that gets left by uninstalls and upgrades (including Apple software).

Two that are great are VMware Fusion, and Parallels Desktop — but almost every piece of software I’ve uninstalled or upgraded seems to leave something behind.

Installing and un-installing software really isn’t as easy as it seems it should be; but a lot of the problems with the install and un-install are the operating systems really weren’t well engineered for that in the first place.

Both Microsoft and Apple attempted to come up with standards for software installation; and for the most part I think vendors follow those standards… at least where the standards are clear.  But it’s just more complicated than it really needs to be, and the software developers are expected to track too many things.  Like I said, Apple can’t seem to do it on OS-X, and Microsoft can’t seem to do it on Windows — so what chance has the mortal software developer got?

Originally posted 2009-02-24 01:00:26.

Macbuntu

Macbuntu isn’t a sanctioned distribution of Ubuntu like Kubuntu, Xubuntu, etc; rather it’s a set of scripts that turns an Ubuntu desktop into something that resembles a Mac running OS-X… but it’s till very much Ubuntu running gdm (GNOME).

I don’t recommend install Macbuntu on a production machine, or even a real machine until you’ve taken it for a spin around the block.  For the most part it’s eye candy; but that said, it does make a Mac user feel a little more comfortable at an Ubuntu workstation, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with the desktop paradigm (remember, the way GNOME, KDE, XFCE, Enlightenment, Windows, OS-X, etc work is largely arbitrary — it’s just a development effort intended to make routine user operations intuitive and simply; but no two people are the same, and not everyone finds a the “solution” to a particular use case optimal).

What I recommend you do is create a virtual machine with your favorite virtualization software; if you don’t have virtualization software, consider VirtualBox — it’s still free (until Larry Ellison decides to pull the plug on it), and it’s very straight forward for even novices to use.

Install Ubuntu 10.10 Desktop (32-bit is fine for the test) in it, and just take all the defaults — it’s easy, and no reason to fine tune a virtual machine that’s really just a proof-of-concept.

After that, install the virtual guest additions and do a complete update…

Once you’re done with all that, just open a command prompt and type each of the following (without elevated privileges).

  • wget https://downloads.sourceforge.net/project/macbuntu/macbuntu-10.10/v2.3/Macbuntu-10.10.tar.gz -O /tmp/Macbuntu-10.10.tar.gz
  • tar xzvf /tmp/Macbuntu-10.10.tar.gz -C /tmp
  • cd /tmp/Macbuntu-10.10/
  • ./install.sh

Once you’ve followed the on-screen instructions and answered everything to install all the themes, icons, wallpapers, widgets, and tools (you’ll have to modify Firefox and Thunderbird a little more manually — browser windows are opened for you, but you have to install the plug-ins yourself), you reboot and you’re presented with what looks very much like OS-X (you actually get to see some of the eye candy as it’s installed).

Log in… and you see even more Mac-isms… play play play and you begin to get a feel of how Apple created the slick, unified OS-X experience on top of BSD.

Now if you’re a purist you’re going to push your lower lip out and say this isn’t anything like OS-X… well, maybe it doesn’t carry Steve Job’s DNA fingerprint, but for many users I think you’ll hear them exclaim that this is a significant step forward for making Linux more Mac-ish.

There are a couple different efforts to create a Mac like experience under Linux; Macbuntu is centric on making Ubuntu more like OS-X, and as far as I can see it’s probably one of the cleanest and simplest ways to play with an OS-X theme on top of Linux…

If you find you like it, then go ahead and install on a real machine (the eye candy will be much more pleasing with a manly video card and gpu accelerated effects), and you can uninstall it if you like — but with something this invasive I’d strongly encourage you to follow my advice and try before you buy (so to speak — it’s free, but time and effort count for a great deal).

I’ll make a post on installing Macbuntu for tomorrow so that it’s a better reference.

Macbuntu on SourceForge.net

Macbuntu

Originally posted 2010-11-14 02:00:36.