Entries Tagged as 'Mac'

Windows Live Essential 2011 – Live Mail

Or perhaps better titled: Why I continue to use a product I hate.

When Outlook Express debuted many years ago Microsoft showed the possibility of creating a email reader for Windows that was clean,simple, and powerful… and for all the problems of Outlook Express it worked.

When Microsoft shipped Windows Vista they abandoned Outlook Express in favor of Windows Mail; largely it appeared to be the same program with a few changes to make it more Vista-like.

But not long after Windows Mail hit the street, Microsoft decided to launch Windows Live Mail, and what appears to be a totally new program modeled after Outlook Express / Windows Mail was launched.  I say it was new because many of the bugs that were present in the BETA of Windows Live Mail were bugs that had been fixed in the Outlook Express code line years before (as an interesting note, several of the bugs I personally reported during the BETA of Windows Live Mail are still present in the newest version – 2011).

The previous version of Live Mail was tolerable; most of the things that were annoying about it had fairly simple ways to resolve them — and in time, maybe we’ll all figure out ways to work around the headaches in 2011; but I just don’t feel like putting so much effort into a POS software package time and time again…

And for those of you who say it’s “FREE” so you get what you get, I’d say, no — it’s not exactly free… Microsoft understands that software like this is necessary in order to have any control over user’s internet habits, so it isn’t free — you’re paying a “price” for it.

Plus, there are other alternatives… Thunderbird for one.

Why don’t I use Thunderbird… simple, there is one “feature” lacking in Thunderbird that prevents me from embracing it.  You cannot export account information and restore it.  Sure Mozbackup will let you backup a complete profile and transfer it to another machine — but I want access to individual email accounts.

Why?  Well, here’s the scenario that I always hit.

I travel, and I tend to take my netbook with me when I travel — and often I’m using my cell phone to access the internet… while it’s “fast” by some standards… if you were to re-sync fifty email accounts each with a dozen IMAP folders, you’d take all day.  Further, most of those email accounts are uninteresting on a day-to-day basis, particularly when I travel — I only want to access a couple of those accounts for sure, but I might want to load an account on demand (you never know).  What I do with Live Mail is I have all the IAF files for all my email accounts stored on the disk (I sync them from my server), and I setup the mail program by loading the three or four that I use routinely, the others I only load as I need them, and I remove them from Live Mail when done.

OK — so that doesn’t fit you… here’s another.

You’ve got several computers, and you’d like to setup your email quickly and painlessly on all of them… but you don’t need all your email accounts on everyone of them — plus you add and remove accounts over time.  Again, Live Mail and it’s import/export handles this nicely.  You simply export a set of IAF files, and then import the ones you want on each machine.

The question is why doesn’t Thunderbird have this ability?

Well, there was a plug in for an older version of Thunderbird that did kinda this; of course it didn’t work that well for the version it was written for, and it doesn’t work at all for newer versions.

One more that I consider an annoyance (but it’s probably slightly more than that) is that there is no easy way in Thunderbird to change the order of accounts in the account window — and they’re not order alphabetically (that would make too much sense), they’re ordered chronologically (based on when you created them).  So you can re-order them, if you delete the accounts and add them back in the order you’d like them to appear; but wait, you can’t add an account any way in Thunderbird by type in all the information again.

And if you’re thinking, OK so write a plug-in that manages account ordering and import/export.  Sure, that would be the “right” thing to do if Thunderbird really had an interface to get to that information easily — but no, it appears you’d have to parse a javaScript settings file… oh joy.

These should be core features of Thunderbird; and in my mind they are huge barriers to wide acceptance.

Originally posted 2010-11-12 02:00:32.

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.

Anti-Malware Programs

First, malware is a reality and no operating system is immune to it.

Malware is most common on operating systems that are prevalent (no reason to target 1% of the installed base now is there); so an obscure operating system is far less likely to be the target of malware.

Malware is most common on popular operating systems that generally do not require elevation of privileges to install (OS-X, *nix, Vista, and Server 2008 all require that a user elevate their privileges before installing software, even if they have rights to administer the machine).

The reality is that even a seasoned computer professional can be “tricked” into installing malware; and the only safe computer is a computer that’s disconnected from the rest the world and doesn’t have any way to get new software onto it (that would probably be a fairly useless computer).

Beyond exercising common sense, just not installing software you don’t need or are unsure of (remember, you can install and test software in a virtual machine using UNDO disks before you commit it to a real machine), and using a hardware “firewall” (residential gateway devices should be fine as long as you change the default password, disable WAN administration, and use WPA or WPA2 on your wireless network) between you and your high-speed internet connection; using anti-malware software is your best line of defense.

There are a lot of choices out there, but one of the best you’ll find is Avast! — there’s a free edition for non-commercial use, and of course several commercial version for workstations and servers.

My experience is that on all but the slowest computers Avast! performs well, and catches more malware than most any of the big-name commercial solutions.

For slower computers that you need mal-ware protection for, consider AVG (they also have a free version for non-commercial use); I don’t find it quite as good as Avast! at stopping as wide a range of threats, but it’s much lower on resource demands (and that helps to keep your legacy machine usable).

Originally posted 2009-01-02 12:00:01.

Google Music – Release

Back on the 17th of November Google announced the generally availability of Google Music…

We’re excited to announce that Music Beta by Google is officially graduating from beta today! Google Music will remain a free service, and you can continue to store up to 20,000 songs in your personal music library.

As well as an updated terms of service, and a music store (that works via Android Market).

The terms of service clarifies that each individual uploads and maintains his individual copy of a music file (unlike Apple’s service which may well substitute your copy with one from the iTunes store).

And while I think Google Music is a great value (it’s free), I think it might still be a little buggy…

My music library has in excess of 30,000 MP3 files, and while I understand that Google will not upload all of them, and that I might not be able to control exactly which 20,000 songs they upload without creating a copy of the songs I have in a separate directory structure, I’m at a loss as to why I only have 19,088 from my collection uploaded — and the error I see in the load is “too many files in account”…

While I wouldn’t have been shocked if I got 19,999 songs uploaded, it seem to me that there’s definitely a deficiency in Google’s uploader and it’s logic for determining when you’ve reached 20,000 songs in your library.

Like I said, I think the Google Music service is a good value; but it does lack the ability to use it as a “backup” of your music library (there’s really no facility to retrieve the music you upload, other than the very painful, manual effort you’d have to put into retrieving files from the cache it builds as you play them and renaming them).

An alternative is the Amazon Music service; they only provide 5GB free, but for a modest yearly payment they do allow unlimited (Google hasn’t even set pricing for raising the limit on their service); and with both the song you purchase don’t count toward your limit.  The upside of the Amazon service is that it does work nicely as a backup; you can retrieve the music you upload.

For the time being, I’ll use the Google Service; but my guess is that I’ll just migrate to Amazon if Google doesn’t really focus on making the service work correctly, and provide for additional storage.

Originally posted 2011-11-25 02:00:48.

You’ll find “it” at Fry’s…

One of well known slogans from Fry’s Electronics… but from what I’ve seen over the past 25 years all you’re really likely to find at Fry’s is pathetic customer service (maybe that’s the “it” they’re talking about).

Sure, Fry’s tends to have good prices on their lost leaders (their normal prices are just retail)… and if they put it in their ad you can get it from any one of a number of other retailers at the same price (or better) by exercising a competitor’s price match policies and not have to deal with the horrendously bad experience of walking through the doors of a Bay Area Fry’s (Fry’s in other parts of the country actually have reasonable customer service… though I’m still not sure I would want to reward a company that trusts it’s employees almost as little as it trusts it’s customers and locks up completely random selections of items in order to force you to get a “quote” and have to deal with  even more incompetent employees).

For me I’ve decided I just will not buy at Fry’s… and when more people reach the same conclusion that if you stop supporting businesses that don’t deserve customers businesses with have to care about consumers and won’t do what ever they feel they can get away with.

After all… I’ve had to sue Fry’s a number of times in small claims court (and won); and they’ve lost a number of much larger law suits.  Is that the kind of business you want to encourage?

Originally posted 2008-08-31 18:54:49.

Clean Up Mac droppings on a Windows File System

One of the most annoying thing a Mac does when it connects to a Windows network share is leave a .DS_Store file (if the share is writable).  There’s no harm in deleting the files (to either Windows or OS-X), but finding and removing them can be tedious.

I made my life a little easier to clean those .DS_Store files off my disk by writing a batch file that you can downloads (in a 7z archive) via cleanup_afp.7z

Originally posted 2010-03-29 01:30:29.

Office 2008 mac

I just upgraded my Macs to Office 2008 mac Home and Student Edition.

I recommend this update for anyone with an Intel based Mac since this is the first Universal version of Office Microsoft has released for the Mac; it runs much smoother than Office 2004 under Rosetta.  And honestly, getting a Universal version of the software is the main reason to upgrade.

The only other major feature that I see is that for those who run Office 2007 on their PC you’ll be able to exchange documents back and forth without any conversions.

Notice that I purchased the Home and Student Edition; that includes everything you need unless you have to connect to an Exchange server (Entourage in this version does not include that ability); and the Home & Student Edition includes three license keys.

The Home and Student Edition was a great buy at the Microsoft Company Store, and will be by far the least expensive version for anyone to get.  Make sure you check the feature list of the different versions, and don’t over buy.

Originally posted 2008-07-01 13:37:17.

SyncMate

Fairly often I get messages from vendors who’ve read a posting I’ve made on a “similar” product to one of theirs and they suggest that I take a look at their product… and I welcome these messages.

When I got such a request from Eltima Software on SyncMate a few months ago I read their web page and thought that their product sounded like it’d be worth taking a look at — so finally this week (mostly because I was talking through the issues of device synchronization with a friend of mine) I got around to testing out the software.

First, the software comes in a free edition as well as an “expert edition” (which isn’t free) — and I’ll go over the list of features and cost later; for now my review will cover only the free version and components.

Second, SyncMate runs only on a Mac; so if you don’t have a Mac, you probably won’t be interested (and SyncMate isn’t the killer app, it won’t justify you running out and buying a Mac to synchronize your devices).

Here’s my objective: keep my contact list and calendar synchronized on my HTC TouchPro2.

Thumbnail —

  • I have a HTC TouchPro2 [unlocked] running Windows Mobile 6.5
  • Over 500 contacts (many with detailed information and a picture)
  • I have several calendar events per week (with reminders); often multiple on a single day
  • I don’t use Outlook (and never will again)
  • I currently use Microsoft MyPhone (the basic features are free, and they are barely worth that price)

Criteria —

  • Sync needs to be “easy”
  • Sync needs to be “reliable”
  • Sync should work via Bluetooth, WiFi, Internet, and/or USB
  • Sync must include all information

And they’re off…

I first tried to get everything working with Bluetooth — that was a fricking night mare; so I dropped by and just plugged in a USB cable (which installed the sync component for SyncMate on my Windows Mobile device).

After that, I just followed the prompts on the screen to setup my device in SyncMate, decide what to sync, and what direction to sync it in (which for me was just syncing my phone to my Mac, since I didn’t really have any information on my Mac), and pressing a button — and then waiting patiently.

SyncMate was able to sync 100% of the contact information and calendar information from the phone to the Mac — and I was able to view that information in the Mac’s Address Book and iCalendar programs.

But wait… I’m not done.

Eltima also provides a sync component for Windows (desktop); so I installed that on a Windows 7 machine — and after a little fumbling around I was able to push the contact synchronization information from my Mac (which I’d gotten from my phone) to Windows 7 — the system Address Book; and then backup the .contact files to my RAID5 array!

A little background —

When I upgraded to Windows 7, Microsoft advertised the Windows 7 Sync Center — a way to manage and synchronize devices; silly me, I just assumed that Microsoft would support Windows Mobile 6.5 (their flag ship mobile phone operating system) out of the box.  They didn’t — you had the run the POS Device Center software that came out with Vista — which would have been acceptable, except it only synchronizes with Outlook and that POS ain’t happening on my computers ever again.

So began my quest began.

OK, so SyncMate works; and sSyncMate will do what I want… but now let’s really “talk” about it.

One of the first things I noticed after setting up the Windows sync component was that it crashed (often)… and it was difficult to convince the SyncMate on the Mac that the PC was alive again after re-launching the sync component.

The interface for SyncMate is a little clunky… it just doesn’t have a very well though out flow; and could definitely use some human engineering to improve it.  It’s usable, but far from ergonomic.

The free version of SyncMate is extremely limited; in fact, I wouldn’t class it as much a free version as I would a teaser version.  For me, it does 99.99% of what I want — it synchronizes my contact (and handles all the fields), it synchronizes my calendar, and it will read my SMS messages (but doesn’t allow me to do anything with them except view them in the free version).

The “Expert Edition” adds a number of features that you might want; but given that it’s $39.95 for a single license (plus $11.99 for lifetime upgrades — which I would say is an absolute requirement) I think it’s priced way too high; you can review the additional features (one of which is a SMS manager, which I think it’s a little retarded that they have two SMS plugins — one that reads, one that manages — I think of the two together).

Here are the pluses to the free edition:

  • Synchronizes contacts (their feature chart notes Entourage 2008 support, but in fact they don’t do anything but give you the instructions to make Entourage use the OS-X contacts)
  • Synchronizes calendar events (again with the Entourage support — see above)
  • Provided device information (handy but not essential)
  • SMS reader
  • Internet sharing (hmm… I thought OS-X could do that by itself)

The expert editions provide these features that I think would probably be nice:

  • Backup
  • SMS manager
  • Call history
  • To Do’s
  • Autosync

And the following are enhancements they should add:

  • Stable Windows sync component
  • Android support (without using Google)
  • Windows Live Mail support
  • Windows Live Calendar support
  • Windows Live synchronization
  • Windows version

Finally, they need to rethink the pricing model.  $39.95 for the personal license is just too much; I’d think $19.95 is more in keeping, particularly since a lifetime upgrade guarantee is $11.99 extra; and the business license is $49.95 (I don’t really why there’s a difference unless the business license included the one of the “priority support plans” they offer — and of course I didn’t see a guarantee on the “priority support” — like getting you money back if they failed to resolve an issue, or answer within a specified time period.

Here’s what I think they should consider:


Personal License $19.95
Family Pack (5) $39.95
Lifetime Upgrade Guarantee $9.95


So basically I think their prices are too high (and yeah, mine above are on the low side, and certainly $24.95 and $49.95 are not unreasonable amounts, but that’s about the limit in my mind, and I think the lower price would encourage a larger user base — and probably end up being more profitable); and I think their “family pack” being 6 units rather than 5 units like Apple is retarded; and I think the lifetime upgrade should be one price… I don’t have any comments on the pricing of the priority support plans since they don’t have any details on the plans.  As to corporate licensing, they can handle that on a case-by-case basis; but they definitely need to eliminate their distinction between a personal and business license; though I have no issue with excluding business use of the family pack.

I would have purchased a license right away (just because I like to support reasonably well done software) had it been priced right; but at the price they want to charge, they’re going to have to fix the Windows sync component, and actually make it have a reasonable feature set…

I am going to use the free version; and I’ll consider upgrading to the “Expert Edition” when they either add features (fix features) and / or address the pricing.

Eltima Software
SyncMate

Originally posted 2010-07-08 02:00:43.

Operating Systems

I have computers running Windows (most flavors), OS-X, Linux, and BSD (or we could generically call those *nix) — and have had computers running SunOS, Solaris, and OSF… so I consider myself well versed in operating systems from a user standpoint (and a developer standpoint as well).

Recently I took a look at how practical each of the “popular” choices were as a desktop environment for what I would consider an average user; and I set the goals of an average user to be:

  • Email
  • Managing contact and schedules
  • Browsing the internet
  • Office tasks (word processing and simple spread sheets)
  • Multimedia (music and movies)
  • Managing finances

And I looked at Windows (Vista Ultimate, but for this much would apply to XP as well), OS-X, and Ubuntu Linux (I felt that was a good distribution for an average user).

On email, managing contacts and schedules, browsing the internet, and office tasks I would say that all three of the operating systems were reasonably equal… very few real differences in capabilities or ease of use (both Vista and OS-X have option for commercial as well as free software; on Ubuntu only free software was used).  For multimedia both Vista and OS-X were far better than Ubuntu (yes, Ubuntu could do most everything the other two could do, but the software was very piece meal, and didn’t “fit” well with the rest of the system).  For managing finances all of them had non-commercial and commercial solutions and depending on your needs whether any or all of them would be sufficient.

Vista

Microsoft’s current Windows operating system for desktop PCs.  Vista is well suited for most tasks an average user is likely to do.  Since the cost of Vista is included in most PC purchases only upgraded expenses need to be considered (this isn’t true if you’re building your own PC from parts — but if you’re recycling an old PC it may already have a license for Windows).  The cost of a PC does not generally include an office suite.  There’s a host of free software that you can use if you elect no to purchase additional software from Microsoft.

 

OS-X

Apple’s current operating system for Macs.  OS-X is well suited for most tasks an average user is likely to do.  Since the cost of OS-X is included in Mac purchases only upgrade expenses need to be considered.  The cost of the mac might include iLife, but not iWorks.  There’s a host of free software that you can use if you elect not to purchase additional software from Apple.

 

Ubuntu

Provided you have a way to download Ubuntu and burn it onto installation media (CD) there’s no cost in acquiring it.  If you have very old hardware using Ubuntu (or a lighter weigth Linux) might be the only option you really have — but my comparison here is not based on what’s cheapest, it’s what’s reasonable.  Most all of what you will need will be installed with the operating system.  There’s a host of free software that you can use by simply downloading it.

 

Observations:

  • Apples are only easier to use if you’re used to Apples — like all tools, human beings have no inherent ability to know how to use them.  Regardless of the operating system you choose you will need to invest a little time into learning how to use it.  How much time you invest will be determined by the relative sophistication of what you’re trying to do, and what kind of background in computers you have.
  • You’ll find that both Vista and OS-X will provide an inexperienced user with much more “hand holding” than Ubuntu.  But that said, one of the first things you need to get proficient at is searching the internet for “answers”.
  • Pretty much all the annoyances people gripe about are universal in all three of the operating systems (it’s comical that Apple had a whole series of advertisements about Vista annoyances — annoyances their own operating system had had for years for the most part).  There are often system settings that can turn off many of these annoyances, but in fact they are present for a reason — and while you’re learning I recommend you just learn to deal with the annoyances and don’t change system settings without good cause.
  • You’re going to find making changes to many settings on Ubuntu (or any Linux) much more difficult than either Vista or OS-X.
  • You’re going to find that things are far more cohesive on both Vista and OS-X; with Ubuntu it becomes fairly obvious quickly that you’re using a collection of dis-associated widgets and parts.

 

Conclusions:

For most computer users I’d recommend that you consider using either Vista or OS-X for your computing needs.  Leave Ubuntu (and other *nix based operating systems) to more experienced computer users who have a “need” for it.  I suspect that we’ll see improvements in the cohesiveness of non-commercial operating system, but for the moment they just aren’t ready for prime time.

Originally posted 2008-12-26 12:00:38.

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.