Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category

A New MacBook Pro and Windows

Friday, April 7th, 2006

My boss was very insistent that she get a MacBook Pro even though I tried to explain to her that some of her applications might not run at all. She didn’t seem to care. She needs something new anyway as her iBook is nearly 3-years old and has had some rough treatment. So a new MacBook Pro was ordered and today it arrived.

The Box is very thin for the new MacBook Pro 15 inch model. Once the plain brown shipping box was removed a familar looking black box was inside. Once this was opened some very artful foam packaging surrounded the new MacBook Pro.

Very thin retail box.

I believe that the extra-thin retail box packaging is being done to emphasize just how thin this new laptop is. It really is UNDER 1 inch thick while it still retains a full compliment of ports plus a DVD/CD drive. Many PCs achieve this slender form by resorting to external DVD/CD drives and such.

The magnetic aka “Mag Safe” power connector has received a lot of attention and some people I’ve heard comment “Why do I need that?”. Obviously these are people who don’t carry a laptop with them everywhere they go (like I do). I have never had my laptop go flying off a table because someone tripped over my power cord but that is only because I have very fast reflexes. I have had many people bring me their poor broken laptops to me for repair after a table dive. The magnetic power connector works exactly as advertised and its a brilliant piece of engineering all by itself.

My plan is to test all our applications on the system, none of which have been updated to “Universal” status yet, and then load Apple’s Boot Camp so we can then install Windows XP Pro.

More to follow…

I will have some screen shots and more details after testing but initially I can only quote the other IT guy who works with me: “wow, that’s insane”. 22 seconds from cold boot to the desktop.

NOTE: all pictures were taken with the iSight built-in to my now out-of-date G5 iMac.

Yet Another Reason I Love Mac OS X

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

In addition to the several Mac computers my wife and I use at home and the home Mac OS X Server I also have two PCs in the house. One of the PCs runs Windows XP Pro and is my custom built Media Center PC (aka DVR). I use it to record TV shows from our satellite feed, listen to iTunes music in the family room, and to import image files from visiting friends digital cameras. The other PC is a dual-boot machine and it serves as our Windows gaming machine AND a Linux test bed.

I have run several flavors of Linux on this system but for the last year I have only been running Suse Linux 9. Recently Suse Linux 10 became available and I simply wanted to download it and install it on the system. Last time I did something like this I made the download using Windows, and then completed the rather complex task of burning the iso image to a bootable CD (or you can buy Nero and save yourself a lot of trouble). This time I wanted to try using a Mac.

I downloaded the DVD image from a Suse FTP mirror using my iBook at work (T1), then brought by iBook home and transferred the 3.5 GB file to my PowerMac G5 with the DVD burner. I added the image file to Disk Utilities list of available images (drag and drop) then clicked burn. 15 minutes later the DVD was ready. I went upstairs with the freshly burned DVD, restarted the PC, inserted the DVD and within moments the Suse Linux 10 installer was loading.

I have never had such a pain free experience when trying to download a Linux installer and burn it to disk(s).

The Linux installation was very clean too. No hassle. No complicated questions to answer (yes, I could have answered the complicated questions but it was late and I was tired).

This extremely positive experience was made possible by Mac OS X 10.4 and the good folks at Apple who design and engineer some really cool–but practical–computers.

Thanks.

Swank Hipsters and their Cool Macs

Friday, February 25th, 2005

Duran Duran has been having a reunion tour of sorts–the original band members from their MTV/Rio heyday–and this got me thinking about famous, well known, and other artists who use Macs. Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran has reportedly always used Macs when he started using a computer onstage. Here’s a recent pic:

[Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran using his 17 in Apple PowerBook G4 onstage 2005]

I like that he has a special stand just for his ultra-wide PowerBook.

[John Taylor on bass guitar and Nick Rhodes on Mac...um...keyboards]

John Taylor on bass guitar with Nick Rhodes in the background playing his Mac…um…I mean keyboards.

(to be continued…)

MacWorld Expo SF Musings 2005

Thursday, January 13th, 2005

Apple. Apple. Apple.

That is how I felt during those first moments as I entered the exhibit hall floor. The Apple pavilion is always large but this year it really dominated the visual space. The flip side of this is that all the other companies that are truly what make Macs so great fit nicely into the remaining space and they are all very enthusiastic. The expo could easily have been called the “iPodWorld Expo SF”. There is such a large quantity and variety of iPod accessories but there were so many other great products designed just for Macs that it really was a show for Apple related products, not just Mac related products (maybe the name should be changed to “AppleWorld Expo SF”).

Here is a quick list of what caught my attention at the show:

  • Apple’s update to OS X: 10.4 Tiger
  • FileMaker Pro 7
  • Apple Mac mini
  • Apple iPod shuffle
  • Thursby Software’s DAVE and new ADmitMac
  • Picturequest stock photo web site
  • MicroSpot MacDraft
  • Softpress Freeway Pro 3.5
  • FileWave
  • Microsoft Office for Mac products
  • TASCAM

I arrived at the Expo on Thursday right when it opened so there a bit of an urgency to move away from the doors and the crush of bodies flowing through them. So without thinking about it I went straight to the Apple mega-pavilion. They were giving a presentation on Mac OS 10.4 Tiger so I sat down to listen.

I didn’t learn anything new, in the sense that the features that are new to 10.4 I have read about or tested, but I did learn that the audience really liked the new features. Especially Spotlight. You can learn all about the new features that will be in Mac OS 10.4 “Long before Longhorn” on Apple’s web site.

The next thing I did was to head over to talk to the people at FileMaker. I have done a lot of work supporting and developing appllications for FileMaker versions 3, 4, and 5 but I skipped version 6–even though it is really grown up looking–because I knew even better things were awaiting me in version 7. I was right.

FileMaker Pro 7 is really an entire suite of products that can serve small businesses on an equal footing with a corporate customer. What I have always liked about FileMaker is that it has an easy to design front end. An office admin, with no design or programming training can create a useful database and the necessary output/display layouts and forms. While working for a company in California I had *the* discussion: to migrate the legacy FileMaker data–developed when the company was all Mac–into Microsoft Access or to update the FileMaker infrastructure. This company had some databases in Access and some in FileMaker. No one knew anything about designing useful front ends for Access (myself included). I looked into the costs associated for each method and found that for a relatively small amount of money we could update FileMaker, set up FileMaker Pro Server, and create a web front end for users who only need to review the data and not input new data. The Access solution was going to require training for my Visual Basic/Office developer, or bringing in an outside contractor repeatedly over time, and also adding a web developer or learning what was needed myself (which isn’t too far from my skill set). The FileMaker solution won in the end, due to my skillful use of PowerPoint and video footage of the staff using Access and FileMaker. If your business needs a easy to maintain database solution I strongly recommend looking into FileMaker.

Apple Mac mini with hand for scale

Then I went back to the Apple pavilion to see the new Mac mini and the new iPod shuffle. Apple appears to be marketing the Mac mini to the consumer who already owns, or wants to own a iPod, but wants to use all the great software tools Apple provides for free on a new Mac. I think this is half of the picture. I think schools may make use of the Mac minis too (even though an eMac is only $200 more than a Mac mini). I believe that small businesses may make tremendous use of the mini on equal footing with the consumers who may run to buy them too. Imagine a company that is fed up with paying $10K a year to license Microsoft products, runs them on the cheapest most unreliable hardware, and now realizes that they can replace all their computers with affordable Mac minis and use the extremely affordable iWork ($79) and iLife (free on any new Mac) instead of the expensive Microsoft Office suite for Windows or Mac. This hypothetical small business keeps their monitors, keyboards, mice, and other USB peripherals but recycles the old computers. The iPod shuffle appeals to the mobile music player market that Apple so far hasn’t competed in: The under $200 MP3 player. In fact their players are priced so low I anticipate that it will force the existing gear makers in this market to drop their prices. I’m not giving up my 15GB 3G iPod anytime soon but I picked up the iPod shuffle and used and thought it was really nice, brain dead simple to use, and it really does weight in at only 1 once. I expect these will sell well even though I’ve had to listen to people complain “There’s no display”. Have you ever tried to use the display on a 256MB player? The display is so small it can’t be seen except from very specific angles (not useful at the gym or on the trail), using the too-small buttons to skip a song or to select a specific playlist is painful. The Apple iPod shuffle doesn’t include a too-small to read display, there’s no display at all, and it uses relatively large well marked buttons to navigate the music. I think they got it. It should be a hot seller.

You are probably aware that Mac OS X networks easily with Windows and Linux machines on all kinds of networks. However, the way files are displayed, the file names that are allowed, and a few other minor items are different for the Mac user browsing a Windows directory on a Windows 2000/2003 server compared to what a Windows XP user sees when browsing the same directory. This seems minor but it seems that very few people ever specifically spell out a file’s location on the network when communicating with a co worker. So the minor issue of how a directory is displayed and what file names are accepted becomes important. I found that the Mac users and their Windows using coworkers were happier after I set up Thursby Software’s DAVE on the Mac OS X systems. DAVE basically makes the Mac network exactly like a Windows XP system does and this is a useful feature for the Mac OS X user trapped on a Windows network. Thursby also had a new product out called ADmitMac. This product adds support on the Mac for Active Directory features. I would have loved to have this product on a couple of the networks I have supported as it would have greatly streamlined the process of managing the Macs so that they would have the same feature set and permissions as the Windows user. Active Directory is a great tool for the network admin but it is also a useful tool for the end user so I really think its great Thursby has introduced the ADmitMac product.

A few quick notes about some of the other products I stopped to check out at the show. I looked at the Picturequest stock photo web site at their booth. It is very well done, easy to navigate, and just looks really clean. I liked what I saw at the MicroSpot booth that I purchased a copy of MacDraft PE for myself. My wife and I bought our first home last year and we are painfully aware that we need a more organized way to plan our home and garden improvements. MicroSpot’s other programs were very affordable and I was able to test their MacDraft Quartz 5.5, Interiors, and Modeler. Each of these programs offered a full set of features for the interior designer, home decorator, general contractor, or landscaper. I have been interested for some time in applications that make working with HTML and XHTML possible for the user who is not familiar with markup languages. Softpress Freeway Pro 3.5 seems like a tool to offer the web novice a way to create complicated code without having to know anything about HTML or XHTML. When I tested the demo of this program I found it extremely frustrating to use, but this was because it completely hides the code and the standard conventions I’ve come to expect when using a markup tool. Now the flip side of this is that I asked a friend to try it, she doesn’t know anything about HTML, and she found it easy to use and understand and had created her own custom web site within about 15 minutes. FileWave is a tool to track, manage, and install applications on your network. An extremely useful tool for the IT person who is managing and supporting a small business network solo. It can be very time consuming keeping track of who has what installed and a tool like Filewave appears to be able to automate the entire process.

Elysian Cruiser with Apple Airport

Even though I kind of put down Microsoft’s Office suite for Mac as being too expensive it is a great package. Microsoft’s Mac team put together a great pavilion for the MacWorld Expo. The staff there was very knowledgeable and was ready to answer any questions and/or demonstrate the features of Entourage, Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. The Mac version of the Office suite also now has many features NOT found in the Windows versions. This is a very good thing because it shows that Microsoft has put together a Mac developer team that really knows Mac OS X inside and out.

TASCAM was one company I didn’t expect to see at the show but I wasn’t completely surprised that they chose to have a booth. They had their products on display that could easily be integrated into a digital recording environment that is running Macs. All of their equipment was drool-worthy to this former film student and college DJ.

Overall a very good show. I attended the show with my mom and she was looking for a new keyboard for her iMac G4. I was impressed with the breadth and depth of hardware choices available from third parties for use with Apple products. The products offered for use with the iPod were so numerous it was…amazing. I can’t think of another recent consumer electronic device that has generated such a large third party accessory market (maybe Nokia cell phones back in the day). I think this is great for Apple and also good for the Mac.

The three hours spent at MacWorld were very focused and very productive for me. I better understand some of the new products out there and I enjoyed the opportunity to meet and greet people from some of the companies whose products I’ve been using for years. So go to your local Apple Store or other local Mac retailer and check out all the great stuff that is available for your Mac.

When Was The Last Time You Saw This?

Tuesday, April 13th, 2004

I often browse the Symantec Security Response home page, as well as other computer security related sites, and rarely in the past four years have I seen anything like the images below. The images are screen shots from Symantec’s web site for a new trojan, which in this case is not a harmful variant, but it effects ONLY Macintosh systems! I think the last Mac only virus was back in 1999 or 2000.

Mac proof of concept MP3 virus

Mac proof of concept MP3 virus

If you want to read more about this proof of concept trojan read about it here.

Intego is the company that first reported this trojan for the Mac and they advised users and their customers about it almost immediately. Symantec unfortunately, took about four days to add protection from this trojan to their Mac virus definitions (even though it is a non-harmful variant a harmful variant could come out any day).

I’m actually surprised that this is the first Mac OS X (UNIX based OS) that has come out. Mac OS X networks with almost any type of network infrastructure and even has a neat technology called Rendevous that automatically connects Mac systems with other computers, cell phones, PDAs, and such that are within range of either the wired subnet or a wireless subnet. This seamless networking is the same thing that has caused Windows machines running Windows 2000, XP, or Server 2003 to be so easily effected in the past couple of years. So why hasn’t the new Mac OS been infected too?

The simple answer is that it is because A) there are fewer Macs out there so the infection will get less attention, do less damage, thus providing only a small bit of satisfaction to the hacker who created the virus or B) it is so easy to write a virus for a Windows system because the tools are easy to use and readily available. I don’t actually fully believe that the truth lies in either of the answers, not completely.

Most of us are probably not aware that the FBI and other federal, state, and local agencies have been some of the biggest “switchers” to Apple. The reason is that the new Mac OS is very secure, and because it is based on a variant of UNIX it is very powerful and extensible. Many local police departments use one or more Macs in their forensic department. The FBI uses Macs to investigate computer crimes and also to retrieve data from computers and hard drives they have seized. If you’re familiar with the Fox show 24 you may have thought the Macs they use on the set are just for their “coolness” factor but in reality it is probably a fairly accurate representation of how America’s real counter-terrorism organization(s) operate.

So Mac OS X may not be the most secure operating system on the planet but it seems to be secure enough that hackers have left it alone…until now.