Entries Tagged as 'os-x'

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.

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.

Video Encoding

A little over a year ago one of my friends with a Mac wanted to get into re-encoding video; I knew about the tools to do it on a PC, but none of the tools really had a OS-X port at that time, so I set out on a quest to find tools that could enable a person who didn’t know much about video encoding to accomplish it.

One of the first tools I stumbled on was HandBrake; it was an Open Source project leveraging off of a number of other Open Source products intended on creating a cross platform suite of tools for video encoding that was reasonably straight forward to use and produced reasonable good results.

Well, the version I tested was a near total failure… but the project showed promise and I keep tabs on it for quite some time.

Over the past year it’s steadily improved.  In fact, I’m probably being a little hard on it, since right after I played with an early version a much improved version was available that did work, and did allow my friend to accomplish what he wanted.

Last month HandBrake released a new version — a much improved version.

With Windows, OS-X, and Linux versions you can try out HandBrake for yourself and see the results.

I did two separate tests (and for some reason I always use the same two DVD titles — Saving Private Ryan, and Lord of the Rings — the reason is that both movies have a wide range of  video type from near still images to sweeping panoramic views to everything in motion (blowing up)…

I had two separate machines (a Q9300 and a Q9400 both with 8GB of DDR2) doing the encodes, and did both normal and high profiles; one test was H.264 into a MPEG4 container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track; the other was H.264 into a MKV container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track in addition to AC3 5.1 pass-through and Dolby Surround pass-through with [soft] subtitles.

For the high profiles: Lord of the Rings took a little over three hours; Saving Private Ryan took just under two and a half hours — so don’t get in a hurry, in fact, run it over night and don’t bother the computer(s).

The high profile achieved about a 2:1 reduction in size; the normal profile achieved about a 4:1 reduction in size.  The high profile’s video was stunning, the normal profile’s video was acceptable.  The AAC audio was acceptable; the AC3 5.1 was identical to the source, and in perfect sync.

There are a number of advantages to keeping your video in a MPEG4 or MKV container verses a DVD image… it’s much easier to catalog and play, and of course it’s smaller (well, you could keep the MPEG2-TS in a MKV and it would be identically sized, but I see little reason for that).

The downside of RIPping your DVDs is that you lose the navigation stream and the extra material.  Do you care???

HandBrake will read source material in just about any format imaginable (and in almost any container as well)… you can take a look at it’s capabilities and features online.

I’ve got some VCR capture streams in DV video that I’m encoding now — trying a few of the more advanced settings in HandBrake to see how it works (well, that’s not really testing HandBrake, that’s testing the H.264 encoder).  My expectation is that once I get the settings right, it will do a fine job; but with video captures you should never expect the first try to be the best (well, I’m never that lucky).

While HandBrake is very easy to use, your ability to get really good results from it is going to partially depend on how willing you are to learn a little about video re-encoding (which will require a little reading and a little experimentation).   But that said, NO product is going to magically just do the right thing in every case…

Overall I would say that HandBrake is one of the best video encoders you’re going to find, and you cannot beat the price — FREE!

Here’s some additional notes.

For Windows 7 you will want to download the DivX trial and just install the MKV splitter (nothing else is needed) so that Windows 7 can play media in a MKV container using it’s native CODECs.

With Windows Media Play 12 and Media Center I haven’t figured out how to switch audio streams; so make sure you encode with the audio stream you want as a default as the first stream.  With Media Player Classic and Media Player Classic Home Cinema it’s easy to select the audio stream.  Also, Windows Media Player will not render AC3 pass-through streams, it will just pass them through the SPDIF/Toslink to your receiver — so you won’t get any sound if you’re trying to play it on your PC.

Don’t delete any of your source material until you are certain that you are happy with the results; and you might want to backup your source material and keep it for six months or so just to be sure (yeah — I know it’s big; but a DVD will fit on a DVD).

Handbrake

Originally posted 2009-12-17 01:00:07.

SyncMate 3

I’ve written about Eltima’s SyncMate before, but they released a new version about a month ago, and I’ve spent some time using it and decide that it’s well wrote revisiting.

SyncMate 3 is very similar to SyncMate2; it’s an excellent utility for keeping your Mac synchronized… particularly if you have an Android phone, Windows phone, Nokia phone, depend on Google for services, etc.

Like with the previous version of SyncMate you may find that the free version has all the features you really need; but the low price of the Expert Edition might make you just go ahead and buy it for one of the useful features included with it.

The only major disappointment I had with SyncMate 3 is that it didn’t migrate my sync accounts and setting from SyncMate 2.  That’s not really an issue for most people, but I had a large number of sync devices setup in SyncMate 2 and I had customized the icons and settings quite a bit for each of the test devices.

Beyond that… SyncMate 3 worked, and worked well.

I really couldn’t test the direct Android sync since I use Google to sync my Droid; and I highly recommend you do not try and sync both directly and via Google – you’re not going to be happy with the outcome (and I guess there isn’t any real way for SyncMate to detect you’ve entered the same device twice).

One of the things I use SyncMate for is to synchronize multiple Google accounts; actually I had one main account, and prefer to have the contacts from it pushed to the other account (which are used mostly for Google Voice).

The list of features is long, and you’re much better off to view them on Eltima’s web site than have me try and list them here.

While the software is very easy to use, you’ll find that it supports a number of sophisticated features — and really what you do with it is limited to your imagination more than the software.

This is a company and product that I believe is well worth taking a look at.

SyncMate 3

Originally posted 2011-02-19 02:00:59.

File System Fragmentation

All file systems suffer from fragmentation.

Let me rephrase that more clearly in case you didn’t quite get it the first time.

ALL FILE SYSTEMS SUFFER FROM FRAGMENTATION <PERIOD>.

It doesn’t matter what file system you use one your computer, if you delete and write files it will become fragmented over time.  Some older file systems (like say FAT and FAT32) had major performance issues as the file system began to fragment, more modern file systems do not suffer as much performance lose from fragmentation, but still suffer.

If you want to argue that your writable file system doesn’t fragment, you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, so read up on how your file system really works and how block devices work to understand why you just can’t have a file system that doesn’t fragment files or free space or both.

What can you do about fragmentation?

Well, you might not really need to do anything, modern disk drives are fast; and on a computer that’s doing many things at once the fragmentation may not have much of any impact on your performance, but after awhile you’re probably going to want to defragment your files.

The act of copying a file will generally defragment it; most modern file systems will attempt to allocate contiguous space for a file if it can (files that grow over time cannot be allocated contiguous, but they can be defragmented at their current size).

On many operating systems you can actually get programs that are designed to defragment your file system.

How often should you defragment your file system?

Well, I generally recommend you do it right after installing and updating your computer; and then any time you make major changes (large software installation, large update, etc).  But that you not do it automatically or an a routine schedule — there’s not enough benefit to that.

You can also analyze your disk (again using software) to determine how fragmented it is… and then defragment when it reaches some point that you believe represents a performance decrease.

Also, try and keep your disk clean, delete your browser cache, temporary files, duplicate files, and clutter — the less “junk” you have on your disk, the less need there will be for defragmenting.

Originally posted 2009-01-05 12:00:03.

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.

VMware Fusion

Last week I decide to upgrade my copy of VMware Fusion 1.1.3 (Build 94249) to Fusion 2 (it was free, and looked like a pretty compelling upgrade, and I already decided I wasn’t going to spend more money with Parallels).

I downloaded VMware Fusion 2.0.1 (Build 128865) and installed it on my Mac Pro and upgraded my Windows XP machine (following all the instructions).

Then I launched my Windows XP virtual machine, it seemed to run just fine, so I shut down — and my Mac rebooted.

I tried this a few more times; and yep, every time I shut down the virtual machine (that had been working perfectly for a very long time) it reboot my Mac Pro.

So I decided to give it a try on my MacBook Pro.  Well, at least it didn’t reboot my MacBook Pro — but on both the MacBook Pro and on the MacMini I got an error when I shutdown the virtual machine and ended up rebooting before I could run it again.

Four machines, all four of them exhibit problems that ten minutes of QA should have uncovered (of course I probably have run Fusion 2.0.1 on more machines that VMware has).

There is absolutely no excuse for publishing software like this… if I had actually paid for the upgrade I’d be looking for a refund.  Instead I’m just going to remove this crappy software from my Macs and go with a much better overall virtualization solution — VirtualBox.  And if I decide I want a commercial solution, I can always upgrade my copy of Parallels Desktop.

At least when software is FREE you stand a chance of getting what you pay for.

NOTE:

The only reason I was interested in trying Fusion 2.0.1 is that it includes “experimental” support for running OS-X as a guest.  But if it won’t run something that’s supported, I’m not sure I care to even try something “experimental” — glad I waited until it was out of BETA to take a look at it.

Originally posted 2009-02-05 01:00:17.

Virtualization Picks

Let me preface this by saying that I’m making recommendations for virtualization based on:

  • Cost
  • Robustness
  • Ease of use
  • Performance

You’ll note I put performance as the last item since it generally is not a huge differentiator for most virtualization needs.  However, you individual criteria may vary, and you should make your own decisions.

The “thumb nail” information below should help you in evaluating virtualization solutions; and the links at the bottom will help you locate solutions.

__________

If you need cross platform virtualization, and will move virtual machines from one host to another, the only realistic choice is VirtualBox.  While vmware and Parallels will run on most host operating systems.  While vmware offers some free solutions, I’ve found their new version of Fusion (for the Mac) could have used ten minutes of QA before shipping; on my MacBook Pro, my Mac Pro, and my Mac Minis it crashes when shutting down a virtual machine that used to work just fine under the previous version (yes it was converted), and even worse, it crashes OS-X on my MacPro.  Parallels is just too expensive, not only is the acquisition cost high, but he maintenance cost is high; it’s very nicely done, but simply not worth the investment.

__________

For Windows Server 2008 on both 32-bit and 64-bit the uncontested choice should be Hyper-V, unless you’re running on a processor/motherboard that lacks hardware virtualization (and even then I’d say you should upgrade your hardware).

For Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003, and Windows XP on both 32-bit and 64-bit the uncontested choice should be Virtual Server 2005 R2.  You should always use Virtual Server over Virtual PC.

For OS-X on an Intel machine you should use VirtualBox (if you feel you need to purchase a commercial product, choose Parallels over vmware; it works well, and has good performance and stability).

For Linux on an Intel machine you should use either VirtualBox, or if you’re a more savvy user Xen.

For BSD on an Intel machine you should use either VirtualBox, or if you’re a more savvy user Xen.

__________

There are other virtualization solutions, but they tend to be rather expensive.  And yes there are non-Intel virtualization solutions that allow you to run Intel guests on non-Intel hosts (other than older Macs, that’s probably not a very common requirement, and outside the scope of my recommendations; the only product I’ve ever used on a G4/G5 is Microsoft’s Virtual PC for Mac).

Hyper-V and Xen use a very modern approach to virtualization, and overall have the greatest potential for future growth.  The OpenSource version of Xen; however, needs a fair amount of polish before the average computer user (not to be confused with computer professional / geek) finds it very usable.

Companies like vmware and Parallels might have nice solutions for large deployments, but I see little advantage in smaller deployments; and for single machines why not use something that’s free and works (well).

__________

Originally posted 2009-02-10 01:00:22.

Remember when…

Remember when it was just so darn easy to share files with other computers on your local area (home) network?  It was ever simple to share files between PCs and Macs.

Have you noticed that while Windows was once a very easy platform to share files with others from it’s become almost impossible to even share files between two PCs running the same version of Windows?

If Microsoft is seeking to make their operating system more secure by making it unusable I they are getting very close to realizing their objective.

I really have grown tired of the complexities of sharing folders between PCs, more and more I’m finding that just using Box or Dropbox, or Google Drive is a much more efficient way to transfer small numbers of files between two machines — even if it’s a one time transfer.  I mean, yeah, it’s kinda retarded to send files to cloud storage potentially on the other side of the country to just copy it to a machine that’s a few feet away — but let’s be serious, it’s quicker than figuring out why Windows say the same user (with the same password) on two different machines, who should have unlimited rights to a directory can’t copy a file from and certainly can’t copy a file to a machine.

Yeah, it may seem retarded, but the days of using *nix copy command between remote machines seems easier…

Microsoft needs to take a hard look at human factors, and not of all the wizzy new feature they keep adding to their operating system, but to the foundation features that people (all people) actually use day in and day out for productivity — after all, we don’t all have domains at home… and not only do we sometimes move files between machines we own, but occasionally some of us might have a friend with a laptop come over.

I guess that’s why I keep a few fairly large USB drives around, because Microsoft certainly doesn’t want to actually make computers that run their operating system usable.

Originally posted 2013-11-03 10:00:23.

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.