Mac

Being too quick to shoot the Lion

What is it with the world these days, Apple releases a new version of their operating system and the world goes nuts? Heck I remember when Windows 95 was released, there were people sleeping overnight in the queue at Harvey Norman. Ah, those were the days.

I installed Mac OS X 10.7 ("Lion") on the first day it came out. I wasn't going to, then I just caved in and went for it. Installing any new operating system on Day One is risky. You always wait for everyone else to get the bugs out before you switch. I think I forgot that. Oops.

There are plenty of glowing reviews of Lion out there. Every skilled journalist worth the ink is writing them. Feel free to read Macworld and the likes for the technical stuff. Here's my experience.

The download is huge. Something like 1.5Gb, but frankly now I have real broadband, I just didn't notice. If you are on wireless or limited download, this will be an issue for you. And no, you can't buy Lion in the shops or on CD or anything else, you have to download it.

Installation is easier than you can possibly imagine. You just go to the Mac App store, click on Lion and hit "buy", $32 Aussies later it starts downloading. Then you get a pop-up and the actual installation part begins. Go have dinner, this bit takes about 30-45 minutes. You are not required, you did your bit already.

On first boot up, everything has changed. The login page is grey instead of blue,prettier, but grey. The photos are round instead of square and I'm sure there are other visual differences, but heck, I just want to log in and see if all my stuff is there or not.

Next comes a video lesson on scrolling with the mouse. I'm sorry, are we saying I don't know how to drive a mouse? Excuse me? But wait! I can't drive a mouse. I scroll down and the text goes the wrong way! What the photon? Oh, this is the new "natural scrolling" - hate it. 10 seconds later, I'm in System Preferences, Mouse and "bull crap scrolling" is turned off.

The first time I open iTunes, it does some conversion and all my stuff is where I expect. Looks prettier and I think slightly faster/smoother. Main thing is it works. Podcast downloading works, my Internet is fine, I'm happy.

Safari is good, but there is no right click to get 1Password. Oh crap, how do I log into my blog? A quick trip out to 1Password, an upgrade and push the Safari plug-in again, nothing. Google to the rescue and Oh crap, Agile haven't down that bit yet. Yep, there is no right-click. Not happy John. Yes, I can still click on the 1P icon on the menu and it fills my passwords, but that isn't how I roll.

The biggest shock is that my "server" is not showing up on the desktop or in the Finder side bar. It is saying "wrong password" but several attempts with the right password, still nothing. Crap! Again Google and the answer is bad, really bad. Apple has upgraded the NFS (Network File System) and I need my NAS people to upgrade the firmware to keep up. And 3.2 of Synology is in Beta still so no NAS. Luckily I can still fudge my way to my files with SMB (Finder, Go, Goto Server, SMB://SERVER )

Most show-stopping was my Cisco vpn no longer worked. I absolutely have to have this to connect to work. If I don't fill in my time sheet, I don't get paid. As I don't get a company laptop (I prefer my Mac) I need that vpn and I need it now. This was the one app I forgot to check for Lion compatibility. I can't believe I did that, so stupid. The bigger bummer is that Cisco keep their software behind a login and I don't have a password. No corporate contract with Cisco, no software. One desperate email to a friend later and he politely reminds me that a Mac can do Cisco out of the box, no software required. Duh! (Makes Homer Simpson noise) Sure enough the networking section under System Preferences has Cisco as an option and scant minutes later I am vpn'ing without Cisco, thank you Andrew. There is a little trick and I'll blog the how-to shortly. See This article. during the meanwhilst.

My last gripe is that no one told me the mouse will no longer wake up the Mac when it has fallen asleep. You have to hit a key on the keyboard. This is like the scrolling thing, a muscle memory I just do without even thinking. When I walk in to the office, I wiggle the mouse as I sit down and the Mac wakes up, but alas no longer.

People bruise Apple for being the dictator, making you do things their way or the highway. And I suppose you could get that impression. I'm not out for a conspiracy theory with every thought about every Apple product. I've got plenty of conspiracy theories in my life (don't get me started about Kennedy or the Moon landing) so I just choose to believe that Apple doesn't really care what I think and so they are not really out to get me. They just want it to be better and if a few of us don't like that, sorry, we can put it back to the old way if we must. I could be wrong.

Bottom line, Apple clearly has done a lot of work on making the Mac easier to use. They have made it faster (yes folks, this is an upgrade so it runs faster on the same hardware. They have made it prettier. In short it is better.

Should you upgrade yet? No. My advice is for you to wait a few weeks. I had done my homework (to as much extent as I could) and then I foolishly jumped early, I still don't know why. It could have been ugly, my Mac could have stopped doing stuff I actually need it to do on a daily basis. I could have been stuck with a dud. I do not suggest you take this gamble today. But you are going to love it when you do.

Don McAllister had a great screencast on preparing for Lion. Beyond the obvious precaution of doing a backup, he went into great depth about what to expect and what to check for. That prepared me and maybe that was the reason I popped my cork a bit early. It pays to have friends.

Talking of friends, I had an email from Carbonite (my online backup) that went like this;

"Dear Carbonite Mac user,

We noticed that you’re using the new Mac OS X Lion (10.7). At this time, Carbonite is not yet compatible with Lion. Any files previously backed up by Carbonite that have not been modified since switching to the new operating system will remain safely in your backup. However, it is likely that any files you’ve created or modified since upgrading to Lion may not be backed up. We expect to release an update to our software in the next few weeks that will address the issue and automatically back up the files you’ve created or changed since upgrading to Lion. This update will occur automatically and we will notify you when it happens.

In the meantime, we recommend that you use an alternate form of backup (such as a USB drive or external hard drive) for any files you’ve created or modified since upgrading to Lion.

We value you as a customer and regret this inconvenience. In appreciation of your patience as we work towards making Carbonite fully compatible with Lion, we will automatically add a free month to your subscription.

Please visit our Mac OS X Lion FAQ page for more information about using Carbonite with Lion.

Sincerely,


The Carbonite Team"

Now there's good customer service for you. Someone else breaks their system, they fess up straight away, warn me of the danger, tell me what they are doing about it and give me a gift. 11/10 Carbonite!

Always best to finish on a good note, so I will.

Just install it already!

In my REIT talk, I rabbit on about the need for good anti virus on Windows. In my over enthusiastic rant, it is possible I forget the basics, that is “how do you do this?”. 

 

I found this great article on LifeHacker that walks you through the HOW of installing anti-virus. Video and all using Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) which I also recommend.

 

MSE is for Macs too. Yes, if you run Parallels (or VMWare or Boot Camp) and have Windows on your Mac, you need MSE installed on the Windows bit too. Just because its running on a Mac doesn’t mean Windows is safe.

 

And talking of the Mac, there IS a Mac virus at long last. I’m almost excited. We finally got a real one. In case you haven’t heard, Mac Defender is a virus dressed up as an anti-virus. In other words, it tries to trick you by calling itself an anti-malware tool in the hopes you will install it. So if you get offered ANY anti-anything for your Mac, just say no thanks. You don't need it and it may be a fake anyway. What you do need is the latest updates from Apple.

Firesheep

There’s a lot of buzz about Firesheep, heck it even made The Mercury. So high time I covered it.

Basically this is a consumer hacking tool that anyone can use. One click and it lets you into someone else’s Facebook page! You start it up, it shows you a list of all the Facebook users near you (even has their photos) and you click on anyone to hijack them - easy.

The technique is not new. What is new is that it is a simple plug-in for Firefox and anyone who can click a mouse can use it with no special skill or knowledge.

What Firesheep does is to intercept the non-secure cookies that Facebook (and Twitter, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, Myspace, Flickr and many more) use and then hijack the session. This lets you into the web site logged in as the other person. Its as if they walked away from their computer without locking it and you sat down. Anything they are logged into, you are in too!

Now, it doesn’t tell you their password, so you can’t go changing it to lock the victim out. But you can change their privacy settings, post embarrassing photos, articles and the likes. Or just snoop.

And remember this isn’t just Facebook, it is a lot of web sites.

What’s the catch? You do need to be on the same network and on a hub not a switch. But any open (or WEP) wifi meets this criteria. Many home networks have hubs and some older business networks. The IT people may even have installed a hub just to monitor network traffic.

What’s not vulnerable? Switched networks and WPA encrypted networks. These isolate each user’s traffic by design so the non-encoded cookies don’t pass by every user like they do on a hub network.

Bottom line, if you are on open wifi at a coffee shop, airport etc, you CAN be snooped on very easily. It is not just hackers anymore, the general public can do this too. If you have wifi in your home or business, you absolutely need to read up on wifi security and understand the basics. You've been given a chainsaw and it is vital you read the instruction manual before attempting to use it or you might get hurt.

Why is it a Firefox plug-in? No, its not a security flaw in Firefox that is being exploited here, its really bad design in web sites like Facebook. They are the ones sending your confidential data around with no encryption. Firefox provides a cross platform (Mac, Windows, Linux, Android) way of distributing this hacking tool. It could have been written in Java or any other language, the author just wrote it in Firefox. Like I said upfront, this is nothing new. Just re-packaged for the masses to use.

Expect chaos.

Since writing this, Facebook now allows you to keep your connection secure (https://facebook.com) but I notice that some FB apps and web pages switch you back to non-secure. FB hasn't quite got it right. You should select "Browse Facebook on a secure connection" under my account, settings, account security.

Blew my diet

I went and blew my Microsoft Diet really badly. Not just a nibble or even a snack, a whole bloody suite of new Microsoft.

I installed Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac. Bugger!

Ok, first impressions, the install was quick and easy, it didn’t ask any embarrassing questions until the end. I didn’t even have to enter the product key until later, although it does phone home to Microsoft to check the key. They’ve been doing that on Windows for years. You can’t cheat anymore, one copy, one Mac.

It was huge, over 1.3Gb of software and then the first patch download was 365Mb, that’s a heck of a lot. And it left the old version in place. I had to browse to my Applications folder and delete Office 2008.

It also broke my Microsoft Remote Desktop application, but a simple re-install of that fixed it again. Luckily I kept the download of RDP in my DropBox for easy access.

Next impression is speed. Way, way, way faster than Office 2004 and noticeably faster than Office 2008. Of course 2004 was a bit of a dud anyway.

The new icons look good, more stylish than before, Microsoft is starting to get look and feel. Also the programs themselves are better looking. Not too far removed from my beloved Office 2003 but still updated with new menus and the new ribbon interface.

Things seem easy to find. Word works. I think I’m happy.

Bottom line: recommended upgrade

Network attached storage (NAS)

Review - Synology DS411j Network Attached Storage (NAS)

The problem with data is that it expands to fill all available space. With all the documents, presentations, videos, movies, TV shows, porn etc you need a big hard drive to save it all.

In the past I made do with several 1Tb drives in USB caddies attached to various computers around the house. So the photos were in \katrena\shared\photos and the TV was in \jsmini\shared\TV and the backups were on the Time Capsule and the blah was on the bling and yada yada. A mess!

I've been on the hunt for a storage solution for some time. At work we play with EMC and squillions of terabytes of space but the cost is a little out of my home budget. One of our team does have a second hand EMC in his garage but he's a (single) looney and "she who must be obeyed" wouldn't stand for that.

My first choice would have been a Drobo. Leo, Cali, Alex and the rest of the TWITs are of course big fans of Drobo. The attraction is that you can add drives of any size at any time and it just figures it all out somehow. Very Mac-like. But in Tasmanian dollars the Drobo is more than $500 before you start buying drives. Ergh.

The friendly and helpful staff at NybbleIT (151a Liverpool St, Hobart) introduced me to the Synology range. In the past I've been highly disappointed with consumer NAS products. I had a Netgear I loathed and a D-Link that sucked badly. The Iomega range isn't too bad but the price is disgraceful at around $2500!!! So I didn't hold much hope for this one I have to say.

Surprisingly the Synology is well made for the money, all steel with nylon slides. I got the DS411j which holds 4 drives. You do have to power it down to add or change them, but what it lacks in 24x7 availability it makes up for in features.

Yes, this is a box that holds up to 4 SATA drives and has a network port. Once configured the drives can be "glued together" to make one (or more) bigger drives that you can see on your network. It does not need any computers to make it go, it is all self contained. So you can place it anywhere you have power and a network cable. I think I'll move ours into the shed just in case the house burns down.

You do need to use drives of the same size. Luckily all of mine are 1Tb so I added 3 of them and set it up as RAID 5, meaning everything is spread across all 3 drives with double up so if one drive dies, my data does not. This gave me about 2Tb of space to use. (3 x 1Tb less 1Tb for backup = 2Tb)

The server side is easy to set up with a simple web browser interface. It supports Windows, Mac, Linux and a bunch of other stuff I'll never use. It streams really well and the TV shows play back smoothly across the network even while other stuff is going on. The Beyonwiz sees it as a network server, the PC sees it as a Windows server and the Macs see it as a Mac server. Its easier to use than it is to describe, trust me.

Security is easy to set up, you can do individual users so the kids and the porn are isolated.

Over the next few weeks I moved all of our data off the mish-mash of drives scattered across our home and consolidated it on the Synology. That freed up another 1Tb drive which I added to the RAID 5 today. With no loss of data, it expanded the RAID and we now have 3Tb of space.

Yes, there are options to expand an existing RAID without destroying the data. You can add hot spare drives and upgrade the RAID level to provide safety in case of a disk failure.

The next move will be difficult as I'll have to back it all up somewhere and add 2 or 4Tb drives, but I figure that day is along way off for now. There are two USB ports on the back and I suspect you can add external drives there if you had to.

So I would recommend the DS411j. If you are an avid downloader and need more space, you could look at the larger models that hold more than 4 drives. But for the average home, this one is great value. With SATA drives so cheap now, its easy to populate it with big drives.

New Mac

One of the scary things about owning a Mac is that you get attached to them. You can see this in the number of older Macs out there. People don’t toss them out nearly as quickly. Even the packaging is so pretty it's hard to toss out the box your Mac arrives in.

So 3 years into my MacBook Pro, I’m starting to feel unfaithful. I’m having thoughts about a younger model. I’m lusting after a solid state hard drive and a unibody enclosure. In short it’s time for a new Mac.

My tip for buying a Mac is to use Apple’s online store. Having school age children, I recommend the Education store. The prices are better, I saved about $1000.

So I configured up the Mac of my dreams. Basically the fastest 15” I could make. Then I hit the button. Following her progress online, I can tell you she has been built, boxed and left the factory. Last seen at Shanghai International Airport looking for a ride to Australia no doubt.

Technical specs don’t mean as much (or at least they are less popular in the Mac universe). But what did I order?

2.88Ghz Core i7 Obviously the faster the better. This new Intel chip has a few kinks though. It can provide more cores (processors) or reduce the cores and overclock (speed up) to optimise, depending on what’s running.

NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M with 512 MB Again, the faster the better. This sucker has 48 cores of its own and cranks at 182 gigaflops, which means nothing except the main processor (above) is only 108 gigaflops. So graphics wise, it should honk.

8Gb RAM More is better.

512Gb solid state hard drive (SSD) This is where I am hoping for magic. Traditional hard drives use spinning platters, floating heads, electromagnetic servos and heaps of other moving parts. The density of data is staggering and the error correction works overtime just to get you back what you wrote to the disk. SSDs use non-volatile memory chips and contain no moving parts. In real world applications, they are supposed to be about twice as fast.

Samsung released this video to show you just how flipping fast SSD really is.

15” high resolution anti-glare screen I’m not a fan of glossy screens. They look good showing movies but quickly gather finger prints, dust and look cheap and tacky. Call me old fashioned, but I like the non-glare variety.

3 year Apple care warranty Having spent the dollars, you expect the laptop to last 3 years, so get a 3 year warranty!

So the new Mac arrived early. A case of Apple under-promising and over-delivering. It was quite awkward really, I wasn’t ready. So this is also an article about changing to a new Mac.

As you know, I‘ve had my old Mac for 3 years. I have customised it, added all the programs I need, got plenty of precious files and pretty much have it just the way I like it. Sp how do you get the new one to do all that and feel as comfortable? Easy.

I had purchased a Firewire cable, but I noticed that Ethernet was an option (for transferring) and given that both machines have Gigabit Ethernet (1000Mb/s) and firewire is only 800Mb/s, why not try that? Faster is better.

So what you do is fire up your new Mac, answer the basics like Language, country and name, then you get asked if you are transferring from an old Mac, so I said “yes” and then you get a list of cable options (USB, Firewire, or Ethernet) and I followed my nose. The program asked me to plug in my old Mac, boot it and run the install DVD that came with the new Mac. I obeyed.

Next you get asked what you want to bring across and I picked everything. After a few seconds, the verdict was this process would take 4 hours (I did have 250Gb worth after all) and away it went. I went off to bed.

Next morning nearly everything was perfect. The Migration Assistant had reported that it couldn’t do my Parallels Windows virtual machine (Windows on my Mac) so I copied that manually (dragged it from old Mac to new Mac, big deal, not sure why it couldn’t do it).

The big thing is that the Migration tool moves everything, not just your files, but the programs too. You do not need to install all of your programs on your new Mac. You absolutely can NOT do that on Windows!

Then time to power down the old Mac and start using new Mac.

First observations were that the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse were not paired. These are serial number specific so they were added as new devices, easy. Testing every program I own, I found that my Cisco VPN client (remote access to work and customers) didn’t start. A simple re-install fixed that and kept all my settings. (Not sure why that one stuffed up)

Off to work and I found my work keyboard needed the re-pair treatment too. But everything else just worked. Kick Apple as much as you like, but the upgrade to new Mac feature works perfectly from my experience. (This is the 3rd time I have used it personally)

3 days later, I haven’t found anything to complain about. My new Mac works just like my old one and all my programs, files and settings are exactly as I had them.

Seven months later, I'm still delighted. Oh yeah, there's this newer Mac with even more power and Thunderbolt and this and that. But the (now) old Mac is fine. The biggest thing I notice is running Windows (yes, I do have to do that for work) is so much faster. XP boots in seconds. All the Mac apps run so fast I can't complain.

It would seem the SSD is worth every penny. I'm now recommending SSD over spinning drives regardless of laptop brand. The savings in battery and performance are worth the cost in price.

Dropbox

Since I wrote this article over a year ago, Dropbox has become pervasive. In short it's everywhere. As well as being cloud based storage, it is the "sync and store" solution for mobile devices like the iPad, iPhone, Android, laptops and web based warriors. Frankly, if you are not using Dropbox, why not?

If you work at home and don't lug a laptop around, install Dropbox on your work and home PC and your files will be waiting for you when you get home. Any changes you make are automatically synchronised back at work. And they keep backup versions in case you changed something and messed it up. Try doing that at work, you'll be groping for backup tapes and doing restores.

Think of Dropbox as a file server in the cloud.

There are files that are too big to email. Imagine popping in to your local Australia Post office with a pallet load of bricks and asking the nice lady behind the counter how many stamps you need.

If your file is larger than 2Mb, don’t email it, the chances of it getting through are low.

Enter Drop Box. It allows you to save files into the cloud (the Internet) and access them from any PC. You can share files, or keep them private, or both. I use mine to store my (encrypted) 1Password file which is very private and also I have a public folder for the common utilities I like to share. I have a semi-private folder just for EMC so I can share the log files with my senior engineer at EMC, no one else can see those files.

There’s a DropBox client (program) for Windows, Mac. Linux and iPhone. This allows you to have a folder on your computer that syncs to your DropBox. The files are store both on your computer and in the cloud at DropBox and kept in sync for you. So you can access them even if you have no Internet.

Use it to move files around, use it to backup to the cloud, use it to give several computers access to your files anywhere in the world. Just use it.

And best of all, its free. You get 2Gb storage for free and can buy a premium account if you need more. Since Drop.io died a death of Facebook, DropBox is my solution.

www.dropbox.com