Entries Tagged as 'Mac'

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.

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.

OS-X – Desktop Search

I’m posting this mainly to illustrate that not Microsoft alone get’s the importance of desktop search — Apple’s Spotlight provides much the same level of functionality as Windows Search in an equally seamless implementation.

So the question (once again) is why are all the Linux based desktop search solutions pathetic?

Originally posted 2010-07-20 02:00:15.

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.

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.

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.

OpenOffice

You need to find a suite of office applications?

The place to start is OpenOffice.

OpenOffice has a long heritage, and the software was designed and built to be a cohesive set of applications (not a collection of various applications that did different parts of a job).

OpenOffice is written in Java, and if you’re running Windows you can download and install a version of OpenOffice that includes the Java Run-time Environment (JRE); on most other operating system it will already be installed.

OpenOffice is able to import and export most document formats you’re used to, plus it can use it’s own format (which is an ISO standard), and creating PDFs of the output is a snap.

Writer — if you’re a Windows person you’d probably think of this as “Word”.  It’s an excellent word processor, and it well suited for virtually any task you might have.  There are quirks (but hey, they are quirks in “Word” as well, and they randomly change from version to version), but overall it’s intuitive and easy to use.  Plus there’s good documentation available to answer most any question you might have.

Calc — if you’re a Windows person you’d probably think of this as “Excel”.  I’m not a big spread sheet user, but I can tell you that all the fairly simple tasks that I used “Excel” for Calc did without a problem; and it imported the spread sheets, converted them it it’s format, and other than a very slight print alignment issue on one they were perfect (and much smaller and faster).  From my experience and what I’ve read you shouldn’t have any issue with Calc for all your spread sheet needs.

Impress — if you’re a Windows person you’d probably think of this as “PowerPoint”.  It seems to work, has all the annoying slide ware capabilities a marketing person might want.

Draw — if you’re a Windows person you might think of this as “Visio” or perhaps “Illustrator”.  There’s not an exact equivalent for this tool.  But it’s useful to do diagrams, drawings, etc.  But don’t confuse it with “PhotoShop” — that’s not really an office tool now is it?

Base — if you’re a Windows person you’d probably think of this as “Access”.  Works well and works with most any database you might have.

There is no email / calendar / contact replacement in OpenOffice, nor is there a “OneNote” replacement.  I don’t know that I feel email / calendar / contacts really belong in an office suite, but I certainly have gotten accustom to being able to collect a bunch of data together in one place with automatic references from where it came — so I’d love to see something like “OneNote” added to OpenOffice.

If you’re a casual user, a home user, a student, or a small business user (without restrictive corporate policies) you’ll find that OpenOffice will solve most all your needs.  Try it… save a little cash.

OpenOffice.org

Originally posted 2010-01-19 01:00:42.

USB Hard Drive Adapters

 Everyone’s making them and they come in really handy…

 Basically they’re devices you can use to access a bare hard drive.  Most of them supports PATA and SATA 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives (though some vendors require a bunch of adapters to do it).  The APRICORN DriveWire unit is clean and simple and priced around $30 (use a price search engine) or less.

I was so happy to find these units that I purchased two of them and gave away my previous ones made by another vendor.

If you’re going to routinely swap drives on and off a computer, and don’t want to spring for an external case you might be better off with a hard drive dock also available for about $30, but they don’t support PATA (PATA is not hot swapable).

If you’re going to use these units to upgrade a computer’s hard drive, remember Acronis TrueImage is a great tool (you can find shareware and OpenSource tools as well — but TrueImage is well worth the price and has many additional features that you’ll likely find useful).


APRICORN: DriveWire – Universal Hard Drive Adapter

Originally posted 2008-12-29 12:00:32.

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.