Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

This was passed on to me by a friend, and as a way of wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving, I decided to pass it on to you. Go to the link, sit back, and watch the video. Enjoy!

http://www.macorpc.org

As a side note, Apple is choosing to close its Agents program at the end of the year. I am trying to determine if they are still offering the discounts until then, so as soon as I hear I will let you all know. But in the meantime, if you are planning to get any hardware in the near future, and I can still swing the discounts, make plans to purchase soon.

Thanks for your support!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Double-Double Vision

Leopard transition, part 2. Here are some further things I have found from my recent switchover:

My USB modem didn't automatically get set up during the conversion even though it was already setup in Tiger. No option to Answer Now unless Receive Faxes is on – you just have to set the ring count to a high number and use the Answer Now feature in the Menubar. Not sure if this was a problem in Tiger.

Suitcase Fusion refuses to hide on Launch, which it always has done on my system. But now I sometimes have a little trouble making it hide using the keyboard command or the menu item. Plus, I found a tech note on Extensis saying that you need to disable Font Book's auto font activation (new in Leopard) in Font Book's preferences for Suitcase Fusion to function properly.

Annoying delays in Mail and other apps that have been plaguing me in Tiger are gone in Leopard, huzzah! A cool new feature for Mail is that dates in messages are smart linked to iCal events, so you just hover the mouse over the date and you can click, edit and add your event to your calendar of choice. The Note feature I mentioned earlier is handy, but cutting and pasting from it to other apps is sometimes problematic. Either it doesn't work or it tries to maintain it's internal formatting.

I cannot seem to access my networked PC anymore. Or rather, I can see the files in the Shared Folder, but I don't have privileges to put files into it. Errr. And I did nothing to change that. It appears that I can only connect as Guest even though I try to sign in as the owner.

The Print Center no longer is a separate application but folded into the Printers & Faxes Preferences Pane. Go there to add/configure new printers, faxes or modems. This isn't bad, just different.

Apple Updates now works like Windows! Actually, not a bad idea. Apple downloads and sets up the install, and if it needs to restart the system, and you say yes, then it closes everything down and then installs the software, prior to rebooting. Should make installs less likely to encounter problems.

Web Clips. I made my very own Widget last week. Easy. Of course, I had to make it hard on my self, but you don't have to. Just go to a web page where you have info that you see on a regular basis – stocks, movie listings, cartoon strips, etc. Then click on the Web Clip icon in Safari, use it like a screen shot tool and drag a square around the info then click inside or hit return. Pick a frame and voila! it shows up in Dashboard as a bona-fide Widget. It auto updates itself every time you go into Dashboard.

So currently, my verdict is: Leopard will not stop you from completing your daily activities on your computer. In fact, there are some nice things that you will find fun and useful. But do you have to run out and buy Leopard now? Probably not. And in the end, it might be a nicer experience for you after they have ironed out some of the problems and software developers bring their apps up to speed.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Leopard – Seeing Spots

Ok, I took the plunge and pre-ordered Leopard from Amazon for $109.00. Got it a couple of days ago and ran the installer. I will say up front that I got wind of some things to be watchful for during the install, but everything seemed to work out. I have read that people recommend an Archive and Install and that makes some sense for those who want to spend the time rebuilding their system (I don't) or who are very cautious about system upgrades (I probably should be). Maybe it seemed like a smooth install because I left it running while I took the girls to their Kung Fu lesson.

(Just a word of wisdom to those whose payments are delinquent, they are both Junior Black Belts – so please pay promptly.)

Anyway, I got back to see it already rebooted and showing the Setup Assistant. Alright. Went through that and we're at the desktop. First thing it said was it needed to update my Mail database, which might take a while. About one minute later, it was done.

The only thing odd about Mail was that it distorted my email signature graphics. So I pulled the graphics to a new line and it resized them to normal. Also received one email from a client who had the same problem. (Chris, try this fix and see if it works for you.)

One thing I do like is the ability to write Notes in Mail. In fact, I am writing this blog entry in Notes as we speak. Nice. Now, if you could run it separately from Mail...

Received a warning about Jon's Phone Tools needing the key, so I pulled up the License Manager and copied and pasted into the box – uh, oh – no good. I emailed the author and found that the current version is not compatible with Leopard and he is writing a new version from the ground up. He probably should issue an email to his users.

I opened the drive and was looking in column mode and it took a couple of seconds to see each column appear as I clicked on the previous column. Very annoying. Part of that was due to the system re-indexing the drive. It has improved but is still slower than Tiger.

Later... Yup, browsing through Finder windows is definitely slower. It's amazing how aggravating waiting a couple of seconds for the next column of info to appear is.

Default Folder does not appear to be working, I will need to try a reinstall. Version 3.0.6 is supposedly compatible, and I did reinstall but need to log out and back in to see if it's working.

Later... After checking it seems as though it switched itself off automatically during the upgrade. I turned it on and it's working again. The only thing it seems not to do is "bounce back" to the last file selected, which is a feature I like.

Hmm. My RazerPro mouse is not behaving. It is acting like a one-button mouse. The driver seems to be operable but none of the other mouse functions work. Will check for updated drivers.

Later... their support board says they are writing a new driver which will be Leopard compatible. In the meantime, I have to go back to my Mighty Mouse. Wah...

Safari. Leopard brought in all my bookmarks, but they did not go to the Bookmark Bar and Bookmark Menu, they ended up in the Show All Bookmarks area. It was a simple procedure to move them where they needed to be. Still need to try some of the new features like Web Clipping.

I am wondering if my attempt at URL synchronization using BookDog was the culprit. Others I have spoken to didn't seem to have this problem.

As for Internet plugins, the only one lost was FLVR which is not supported under Leopard and the authors at Tasty Apps have released an application called Video Box that replaces it and are giving a free upgrade to FLVR owners. BTW this is a program that lets you download and convert Flash Video from web pages to your desktop. Nice for those keepsake YouTube videos.

Dreamweaver CS3's FTP capability broke in Leopard. Dang! Good thing I have Transmit, which just released a compatibility update, 3.6. It seems to work unhindered.

Later... After doing some digging, it turns out that you need to plug the IP number, not the domain, into the Remote Access address. That's a fix but not a solution. 

What else? It's been a few days and still I am impressed with how 3rd party developers are handling the transition. Transmit, DragStrip, BBEdit and SnapzX Pro have all automatically notified me of Leopard compatibility updates.

Time Machine. The biggest questions for me were – how big a drive do I need? What happens when the drive is full? The answers are – he bigger the better and Time Machine will begin to remove older files from the drive when the drive is full.

I have a 400GB external drive and a 500 internal drive that has about 370MB on it. When it attempted it's first complete backup, it told me it couldn't fit all the data on the drive, which was kind of odd, since I was able to do it with Carbon Copy Cloner. It suggested I put some files on the excluded list, which I did. It now runs smoothly and quickly in the background and doesn't disturb my work. Nice.

The reason for the larger drive is that it will just keep on making backups for as long as it has space. And for people working with larger Photoshop files or video, bigger drives are a necessity. You probably want a drive at least half again as big as your internal.

As for the auto deletion of older files my understanding would be that you would also backup important files like client jobs and such onto CD or DVD anyway, and this was just an added layer of protection. In the event of a drive failure, you want a current copy of your drive restored, so you probably wouldn't miss those files anyway.

As of this writing over 2 million copies of Leopard are already out there, and many of you have already made the leap, which has been the fastest adaption to a new Mac OS that I have ever seen. I know some of you have also started using Leopard. Please post your experiences here and maybe we can work out some issues together.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Baby, I'm Amazed...

I know you may find this hard to believe, but I don't often find myself amazed... at myself. Sure, I put a lot into my work and go the distance for my clients, figure out things, push the envelope and all that, but there are not too many times where I lean back and say, "Ahhh, that was especially well done." So when I had one of those moments yesterday, I said to myself, "Self, you need to share that with your peeps." And, well, you are my peeps. So here we go.

If you have Comcast in your area you are familiar with their services. They have TV, Internet and phone service. Getting all three gets you the bundle price and you can save some money, not to mention have unlimited local and long distance calling. Nice. So there I was online and looking at my account when I noticed that in addition to getting your voice mail messages online from anywhere (how cool is that?) that they also track the last 90 days of calls. Fun. So I scroll through the list and notice that hey, none of these calls say who the caller is, even though there is a field for it. They all say unavailable. Odd, considering I have Caller ID service on the line. Anyway, as I look over the list I recognize many of the numbers, but many I do not recognize. So I think to myself, "Too bad I couldn't cross reference these numbers with my Address Book. I bet a lot of these numbers are in there."

I know what you're thinking. "This guy has waaaay too much time on his hands." Yeah, I know. But many of the things I have been able to do for my clients comes out of this wanting to figure stuff out. To continue. I downloaded the past 90 days of caller records in .txt format and then I drag them onto FileMaker Pro 8.5. A cool thing about FileMaker – if you drag and drop a compatible file type onto the icon, it will convert it into a database for you. So I did and poof! instant database. Then I was able to scroll through the records in list mode and get rid of all the blank records and dialed and unknown number calls. What was left was a list of received calls with numbers, length of time and date received.

Next, I had to access my Address Book info. Slight problem there. There was no way of exporting the data, except as a vCard. And FileMaker didn't know what to do with it, neither did Excel. Only mail apps. Dang. So I went over to my computer resource, VersionTracker.com and did a search for Address Book to FileMaker. Voila! Someone had already solved that problem for me by writing a free AppleScript that copied the data from AB into FM. Sweet! I downloaded that and started the process. I end up with another database with my AB info. Now I had all my info in FM but I needed to cross reference the phone numbers in the AB with the phone numbers in the caller records from Comcast.

So I created a new table in FileMaker within the current database and imported the data from the AB database. Using FM's relational ability, I created a new relationship based on the phone number field from both the AB and the Comast tables. Ran a report and... nothing! No matches. So I took a look at the data and realized that Comcast formatted all the numbers as (123) 456-7890 and I had it every which way in the AB – with parens, without, with dashes, without, even using periods. But now that all the info was in the database, I could use a filter to get what I wanted from both sets of data. I created a new calculation field in each table and ran a text filter on the phone number to give me just the numbers only and then modified the relationship to be between those field instead. Yeah, baby! Then it worked. When a phone number in the call record matched a number in the AB, it took the name from the AB and added it to the call record report.

Then I played with the report to add subtotals by phone number, a grand total, save space, sort by name and number, and of course, make it look cool. Now I can just download the latest info and generate a new report anytime I want. Good news. And now I also can keep better track of my phone time with my clients. Oh, oh...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Multiple Operating System Disorder (MOSD)

Now please, have a seat on the couch and I'll tell you all about it. In my role as web developer and consultant, I have often had to look to the ugly step-sister of the computing world (Windows) in order to accomplish some of my tasks, whether it is integration of multiple platforms on the same network or seeing how a web page renders in Internet Explorer. I have experimented with applications as far back as Soft PC and Virtual PC, even with the Macintosh Performa with the PC add-in card (that was weird). But the best way to do Windows has been on a real Windows-based PC. So I have had to own and maintain a PC in my office for a number of years. Until now.

With the advent of the new Intel-based Macs, it has never been easier to have a true multi-platform environment on the same machine. There are several ways this is happening and all of them have an impact on how we do our business. The first is Apple's own Boot Camp 1.4. This beta software (which will become non-beta with Leopard), allows you to partition part of your drive into an FAT32 or NTFS format and then allows you to install Windows XP or Vista. You create a drivers CD you use at the end of the process to install all the drivers that allow you to interact with your Apple components as well as a Startup Disk icon representing your new Windows drive. Select it, restart and wham! Welcome to Windows. This is your best option for the PC gamer who wants full access to their video card's performance and 100% Windows compatibility.

However, this means every time you want to run Windows, you have to change the Startup Disk, Shut Down or Reboot and then boot up in Windows. Do your thing, change the Startup Disk, then Shut Down and boot up as a Mac again. Pretty lame. A big time waster if all you want to do is check something in IE, or run a quick Windows app.

Enter the realm of Virtual Machines (VM). This type of software allows you to create a container file that holds the virtual disk, operating system, applications and all created files. It doesn't require a hard drive partition and runs almost as well as Boot Camp. The advantage is that it runs within OS X. You can launch Windows in a window whenever you need it. The two major choices here are the $79.99 Parallels Desktop 3.0 (15-day trial), and the $59.99 ($39.99 with a $20 mail-in rebate) VMWare Fusion 1.0 (30-day trial). In this article, I will be discussing Windows since that would be the most often selected operating system, but be aware that you can run other operating systems as well, such as Linux, Unix and OS2.

Installation
To install Windows XP or Vista using either product, you must own a full copy of Windows XP SP2 or any flavor of Vista. Pop in the CD, then enter your name and Product Key and away you go. I laughed, because it's actually easier than running the install on an actual PC. It seemed to happen faster, too. Both applications also have the ability to use the Boot Camp partition as the source drive, making a reinstallation of Windows unnecessary. I had already done this with Desktop, but was unable to use Fusion with the same partition. My guess is that it didn't like having Parallels Tools on there, since it wants to place its own version called VMWare Tools on the partition as well, so I was unable to test that function for Fusion.

Using the VM
Fusion does nothing for many seconds, so I almost thought I hadn't double-clicked, but then it boots and all is well. It requires the typical Windows login. For some reason, Desktop doesn't and just boots right to the Windows desktop, much quicker than Fusion. However, Fusion has a Suspend feature which allows you to boot directly to the last saved state of your computer, as if you put it to sleep. Then it becomes as quick to boot as Desktop.

Compatibility
Ok, now to the nitty-gritty. We want to use these applications to either save time from booting into Windows, and/or save money by not having to buy all the same applications over again. So what kind of applications can they run? In a nutshell, every standard productivity app runs. All of Microsoft Office, Creative, Web, and Adobe's Production Suites, even programs like AutoCAD. Microsoft Update, AVG Anti-virus, Spybot Search & Destroy, Ad-Aware and Spywareblaster all installed and worked fine on both (good thing, because you'll need them in Windows...).

So, fine. What doesn't work? In another nutshell, games. Support for 3D acceleration, Direct X and OpenGL is iffy at best. Want to run games? Use Boot Camp. I tried a smattering of games from old to new (Ghost Recon w/Desert Siege and Island Thunder, Syberia I, Call of Duty I, GameTap) and only got partial success. The lower end stuff works pretty well. The new games need to access your video card directly. Until that happens, Boot Camp is your best bet.

One big item to note is that when installing multiple CD games, I had to manually disconnect the CD drive from Fusion, eject the CD under OS X, put in the new disk, switch back to Fusion, and re-enable the CD drive. Blech... The installs under Desktop were flawless. Odd, but during that time, I couldn't eject the CD using the keyboard eject either, which also worked fine under Desktop. The other strange thing using both apps was that the virtual system window resized when launching a game to the game default and didn't always resize normally upon return. At least Desktop managed to return to the right size most of the time.

Integration
Both apps have the ability to "blend into" OS X. Desktop calls it Coherence mode and Fusion calls it Unity mode. They both allow the user to use the entire screen for applications, rather than for interfaces, so you see only the program windows from either platform when called for. Coherence allows you to see the Start menu and Taskbar along the bottom and functions as it does in Windows, Fusion has a Launch bar for you to access your Windows apps. In Desktop, your Mac Desktop and files are as readily available and usable in Windows as if they were right in the drive container, whether in Coherence mode or not. And conversely, your PC drive icon and shortcuts can appear right on your Mac Desktop as well. At first I wasn't thrilled with the way Fusion handled this feature, but after getting annoyed with the Start menu bar Parallels places at the bottom of my screen and interfering with DragThing, I think I would prefer using Fusion's way.

One Trick Pony
One trick up Fusion's sleeve is the ability to convert a Parallels VM to a Fusion VM. Just download a converted on the Parallels VM and run it, then quit and boot Fusion and tell it to open the Parallels VM file. Poof, done. Nice little trick, that. Combine that with the cheaper price along with the discount, and... it's still not quite enough to make me want to switch. Desktop is a much more refined and functional version of a VM. So, go ahead and try it out and you'll see what I mean.

And now for something completely different.
I have been discussing these three methods – Boot Camp, Fusion and Desktop – but there is one more method I will mention. It's not something you buy to run Windows apps, but rather what developers can use to bring Windows apps to the Mac. It's called Cider. Basically it allows Mac Intel machines to run Windows apps without the need of Boot Camp or any VM software. A great example of this is GameTap's Myst Online: URU Live game. You can download and use it for free and it's the exact same application as on the PC only running through Cider on the Mac. This might be able to more affordably bring some Windows apps to the Mac that we would otherwise not see.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fresh Squeezed Media!

Have a corrupt file you are looking to recover text and graphics from? Or how about a PowerPoint slide show that you need the photos from? What about grabbing icons and program elements to be used in an application your building? A long time ago on an OS far, far away (OS 9), we had CanOpener from Abbott Systems (and I just recently found out, we still do.). Now we have File Juicer, a modern media extraction tool from echo one software. I would have done a feature comparison, but since CanOpener does not offer a trial version, I couldn't. That and the fact that File Juicer is only $14.95 to the whopping $65.00 for CanOpener, I didn't want to spend the cash.

Ok, you heard it enough times from me already, I am an interface addict. But I give as many points for simplicity as I do for glamor. This gets the nod for simplicity. Drop just about any file type on it and it does its thing automatically. Even compressed and PC files, too. Keep the file in the Dock and drop files on it from the Desktop and you never even have to run the application.

The Preferences allows you to customize your extraction for various file types, should you be looking for something in particular, say just for Flash files or PNG files. Here's a list of formats it supports:

Images – jpg, jpeg 2000, gif, png, pdf, wmf, emf, tiff, eps, pict, bmp

Video – mov, mpeg, avi, wmv

Sound – mp3, wav, System 7, au, aiff

Text –
ascii, rtf, html.

These types can be extracted from: avi, cab, cache, chm, dmg, doc, emlx, exe, ithmb, m4p, mht, mp3, pdf, pps, ppt, raw, swf, xls, zip, and other formats. Even data from partially damaged files can be retrieved. You can optionally sort the results into related folders and even generate an index page for you to see the results at-a-glance.

If you ever wished that you hadn't deleted those photos off of that Flash Card – go no further. File Juicer can make a Disk Image (dmg) of the file and then extract whatever data is available. Lastly, the current version can also recover thumbnails images from your 3rd gen iPod nano.

Related Story
I had a PowerPoint presentation given to me that contained a series of images I wanted to save, but not within the PowerPoint file. So using File Juicer, I was able to extract over 100 jpgs and then drag them into iPhoto – just the solution I was looking for. The current version supports PP files up to 250MB.

Conclusion
The developer is very forthcoming in regards to what the program can and cannot do as well, which something more developers should do. I won't list those here, but you can view the ReadMe for the limitations and other useful information. All in all, you get quite a lot for the money. This is one of the better deals in the shareware world. Go get yourself a copy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mr. CD/DVD Disk Art Designer Guy

Here's to you, Mr. CD/DVD Disk Art Designer Guy. After all the time, effort and money is spent developing those slick multimedia and music titles, the producers give you one hour to design the disk art. You suck down a frozen grandé mocha latté (decaf, with soy milk), put in a quick call to your psychiatrist and get started. But where to begin?

Luckily, life is not a Bud Light commercial. There are three apps I want to review here that help you design professional-looking disc art, be it for a label or, for those who have the proper equipment, for printing directly onto the media.

Print CD by Epson, version 1.2.1E
The first product I ran into was Print CD which came with my Epson Stylus Photo R200. It has a media tray that you slip into the manual feed slot which can print directly to ink-jet printable CD and DVD media. Very cool. The software interface is not strictly up to Mac standards, but it is pretty easy to figure out. It is comprised of a series of palettes which allow to manipulate the various graphic elements – the images, the text, and objects. It only has 3 Zoom settings, 50%, 100%, and 200%. It should have a Fit to Window and the palettes should snap to the main window but doesn't, so you have to futz with the palettes when you resize the main window.

You can insert pictures of any type into the Background and resize them, rotate them and apply these basic effects to them – Contrast, Blur, Brightness, Spot Color, Blur and Mosaic. Text can be added with the usual style options (including shadow and character spacing) and then you can Distort the text á la Microsoft Word (although not as many options). You can also add lines, circles and rectangles (constrained or not, with outline or not) but I find that I rarely use these.

While there is no layering per se, there is a separate Background image and you can Bring Forward, Bring to Front, Send Behind and Send to Back items in the foreground. It's not true WYSIWYG, since you have to select an item and enter the changes in the appropriate palette, but as I said, it gets the job done. And it's free with the printer. You can change the inner print diameter for various media types as well as Fine Tune the Print Position, in case it doesn't align properly. That setting is remembered, so you need only set it once.

I printed a lot of media with this app and found it reliable and consistent. The other great thing about it is there seems to be no ink wasted. That is, ink is not smeared onto the outer edge or the inner circle that you have to wipe off. It's also Twain compatible so you could scan right into the application. Unfortunately, the version I have is not Universal Binary and not quite up to date for OS X, which is why I moved on, and works only with Epson printers.

Discus 3.16/4.1 by Magic Mouse Productions
It's always good to explore what comes bundled with your applications. Toast 7 for example, came with several nice utilities to do such things as digitizing LPs, cataloging disks and for this review, designing cover art. Specifically, it came with a lite version of Discus 3. Again, a non-standard interface, but with some nice features, one of which is the New/Old Projects dialog which comes up immediately upon booting. I would love an option to pick the Old Projects tab by default, since after designing a few files, I like to edit existing ones to create new ones. Plus it shows thumbnails of the designs, which is also cool.

Discus combines everything into a single window, which is nice so that resizing doesn't effect the placement of palettes. It also sports 4 levels of zoom as well as a Fit to Window option. It has silly sound effects for commands which reminds me of Fontographer and Kid Pix, but luckily, you can turn that off before you are driven insane. Discus relies heavily on a tabbed, progressive interface that guides you through the design process, but doesn't force you to do each step in the same order every time. And you can go back to any step when you want.

As with Print CD, you have a Background, here called Canvas, then separate layers for Paint, Photos and Text. Where this breaks down is not being able to click on a particular item and being able to edit it immediately (in Fireworks CS3 it's called Single Layer Editing). It's kind of annoying to have to go one more step and pick which layer, then pick what you want to edit.

In Canvas mode, you can select from one of the many images included with the software from the scrolling preview at the bottom or pop up a separate preview window. The lite or RE version comes with about 230 but the full version unlocks about 850 more. You can preview those locked images but can't use them unless you upgrade. My personal philosophy on clip art is that you use it much less than you hope to. However, that being said, I made pretty good use of the restricted set of images for the disc art files I have created. Luckily, you can also use the Photo mode to add photos to be used as a substitute for Canvas mode. You can flip, invert and rotate these Canvas images as well.

Paint mode has a whole MacPaint-like tool set including brushes, objects and clone tools. Again, for me, these features have been largely unused, but it's nice to have the option.

Photo mode has a more comprehensive set of tools than Canvas mode, including duplicating , cropping, scaling, stretching, corner radius, edge softness, lightness/darkness and opacity. Again, having numbers for precise measurements would be nice but the sliders work ok.

For text editing, there are many similar options to Print CD and also includes line spacing, angle and opacity. I would've liked the standard text window here to pick specific sizes, but a tool tip shows you the actual number and a sample of the choice you are making, which is a nice touch. The fonts are displayed WYSIWYG in a 4x4 grid at the bottom and you can pop up another window that shows them in a 6x42 grid on several pages. I think it would've been easier with just a font menu, since this doesn't support family groups and makes the list very long.

The last tab is Print. This is where you can select the proper template for your printer, make a test print, adjust the inner and outer diameter and fine tune the print area, with some nice visual feedback on the right side. Two last features I would mention is the ability of the program to import track names from Toast, JAM, Dragon Burn and iTunes and to export the disc art to BMP, JPG, PICT, TIF and Photoshop formats. It would be nice to have the option to export with or without bleed and with or without the center whole. It also is not Universal Binary, though the new 4.1 version is.

Disc Cover 1.5 from BeLight Software
Moving to our final contestant, we have another bundled application, this time with Toast 8, called Disc Cover. Here we may have reached the pinnacle of disc art applications. This app is Universal Binary and iLife integrated as well as being much more Mac like than the previous two reviewed.

The interface is similar to Apple's suite of iLife and iWork apps, using a combination of main window and more detailed palettes of information and control. It sports a foreground and background mode like the others and gives you an iLife media browser on the left side. There are commands to open the standard Color and Text palettes as well as context-sensitive Inspector palette. The program appears to have almost infinite Zoom in and out settings along with Fit Page, Fit Width and Fit Height. There is a Recent documents menu, sadly without thumbnails.

You can access iTunes (an audio CD or even Toast) for playlists, iPhoto to import photos and iDVD to import DVD chapters and backgrounds. You can access any file through the Open File command and navigate the huge quantity of backgrounds, objects, default Picture folder, create a collage of images or even generate a geometric image to create your artwork. It also ghosts the image on the bleed and non-printable areas, so you can position your artwork more accurately. Lastly it gives you the option to build an entire project of documents from disk to cover to folding booklet to insert to keep the design consistent as well as all in one place.

Ok, downsides... No Revert command (Discus does), no image preview of recent documents (I really like that feature), palettes don't snap to main window, no export as image option, Single-Layer (Background or Foreground) editing only, and maybe the most annoying is that upon printing, it does produce some excess ink on the non-printable areas of the disk.

So while Print CD does a good job, I am tossing it because it's not UB. Then I am left to choose between Discus and Disc Cover. The version of Discus I own would need to be upgraded for UB support, which I guess is ok, but it's support for Apple technologies is lacking. However, Disc Cover has that annoying issue with the excess ink that makes me hesitate to fully endorse it. Yet Disc Cover is the one I am going with since it supports many current OS technologies, timesaving features and can do whole projects. But guys, clean up your act, huh?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Not Always the Apple of My Eye

Yes, it's true. We are not all blind worshipers at the altar of the Holy Apple. Many of us are (mostly) mature computer users who have learned through experience the benefits of Macintosh ownership. The joy of (mostly) easy maintenance, of bundle-osity (iLife and iWork), of all the third-party programmers bringing great and (mostly) inexpensive shareware to the masses – we saw it, and it was (and still is) good.

But – you knew this was coming – but... there are some things that could be done better, there are some issues that need addressing, there are some problems to be fixed. One annoying problem has been the delay bug found in many of my applications running on my Intel iMac. Example: Open Mail, check mail, fine. Create new message or even reply and it takes upward of 30 seconds or more to open the new window. What's up with that? Scanned the discussion boards and tried a couple of suggestions, but it seems unchanged.

Adobe C3 products are the same. Dreamweaver, Fireworks load and then you have to wait until you can actually open an existing file or create a new one. Even if the Getting Started dialog is turned off in preferences, it still takes a while, which leads me to conclude that it may not be a network issue.

Fonts are another fun topic. After all these years, Apple still hasn't got it right. First one folder in the System folder up to OS 9, then five Font folders strewn about the hard drive. Required system fonts and non-required system fonts, not to mention Type 1, TrueType, OpenType, MyType, YourType, etc. How about one Font folder? How about you hide the critical system fonts from the user? Font management tools have helped out greatly here.

What about navigation? Why is it that we have to buy all these third-party software packages (bless them!) to perform the tasks that the operating system should have to start with, thus adding to the system overhead, consuming memory, potentially causing conflicts and the like? For example, just try navigating the Open and Save dialog boxes without DefaultFolder. I must save hours of time a year not having to select and re-select a current document location or performing Finder operations from within those dialogs.

How about a new way to copy files? To move or copy files from one location to another requires that you open one window, navigate to the folder your files are in then open another window and navigate to the destination then go back to the first window and drag the files from there to the location in the second window. Oh, brother.

What's your beef? Let me know some other things that Apple could do a better job at. We'll get back to the software reviews next time...

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Deal of the Century

Blink, blink, blink. Three months have gone by. Yikes. Time really does fly by. I apologize for not keeping up, I even had one person say they missed the articles. Wow, that means at least one person is actually reading them! So I guess I need to pick myself up and get back in the race. That's life. That's what people say...

So here, finally, is the posting I started so long ago. Hope you enjoy it!

You got all this stuff and you want to sell it online. What a hassle. First, you have to organize it, clean it up, write descriptions, take photos and then go through the tedious process of posting them on your favorite auction site. Then you have to submit it, track it, answer questions, receive payment, and finally ship the item and provide feedback to your buyer. Seems more trouble than it's worth. But if you could minimize the work on the second half of the process, it could just make your auction experience more tolerable and potentially more lucrative! Let me show you a few apps that can help you toward that goal.

Cycline3 6.5

Cycline Auction Listing Creator, otherwise known as CALC, is a straightforward, easy-to-use application with versions for OS 9 and OS X. For quickie auctions without a lot of fuss, and minimal cost, this is the app for you. I have outlined some pros and cons to the app below.

Pros
  • Outline/Wizard format walks you through process, everything is pretty much explained for you.
  • Decent interface, not stunning, but makes the process easy to figure out
  • Host pictures on your website
  • Preview in browser
  • Font selection
  • Page and table background images
  • About Box has great linking feature, I know not really crucial to the function of the app, but it was nice enough in my opinion to point out
  • Support for OSX, Win, Linux – the only one that supported all these platforms
  • Supports eBay, Half, Yahoo, ROL – if you're not an eBayer, the ability to use other auction sites is a plus
Cons
  • No eye-catching layouts – to me this is a deal breaker at any price. If it appeals to me, it should appeal to potential buyers
  • Doesn't support Drag & Drop of pictures – should be a given in OS X, but since it supports multiple platforms, I can understand why
  • Doesn't support Drag & Drop of text – same as above
  • Doesn't support iPhoto – same as above
  • Layouts don't appear to have default text settings (what you see isn't what you get)
  • Tools popup is oddly implemented (but reduces space requirements)
  • Poor support for pre-formatted text, and for applying styles – back to ease-of-use, I want to cut and paste formatted text and have the app understand or translate it
  • Does not interface directly to eBay – detracts from the time-saving concept
Price
Inexpensive! $9.99 for download version

GarageSale 3.3b6

I Was Coding has put together a great product, taking advantage of many Mac features including iPhoto, Drag and Drop of text and pictures, Cover Flow and more. Beautiful templates and tight integration with eBay makes the auction creation process much faster – once you learn how to get around. There were few things to find wrong with this app, which is why I ended up buying it.

Pros

  • Complete interface with eBay
  • Excellent template design
  • Excellent interface with OSX/iTunes technologies
  • Support for Search Attributes
  • Supports Drag & Drop of pictures
  • Supports Drag & Drop of text
  • Supports iPhoto
  • Supports eBay, GarageSale, .Mac, FTP, WebDAV picture hosting
  • Dynamic theme switching
  • 104 Templates - auto download and install
Cons
  • No support for other auction sites
  • Somewhat overwhelming at first
  • No cost estimate for auction
Price
$29.99 for use on 2 computers by same user. Nice demo feature allows for 3 auctions on eBay.

iSale 4.2

Another interface jewel, iSale really shines. It has a zillion templates (ok 168 – almost a zillion), nicely designed even though space inefficient and has many of the same support of OS X features as GarageSale. The only reason I didn't jump on this app was that the license was more expensive and allowed for use on only one computer.

Pros
  • 168 Templates - auto download and install
  • Complete interface with eBay
  • Excellent interface with OSX/iTunes technologies
  • Supports Drag & Drop of pictures
  • Supports Drag & Drop of text
  • Supports iPhoto
Cons
  • Templates well designed but they don't relate well to categories and do not seem to shift up based on amount of text. Take up too much space.
  • No HTML list support
  • No tooltips
  • No contextual menus
  • No cost estimate for auction
  • No highlight of additional cost items
  • No support for Search Description
Price
$39.99 for use on 1 computer. Also allows for 3 auctions on eBay (I think there is some competition going on...)

Sold to that man in the plaid jacket! And I bet with any one of these apps, you can do more selling online. Got an online auction story to tell? Let us hear it. Where's the furthest you've shipped something? The largest item? Most expensive thing? Inquiring minds want to know.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Found in Translation

And now the continuing saga of one man's battle to ride the tide of change. The Intel change, that is. And the battle is going pretty well. All those lovely Rosetta-marked icons are slowly fading from my DragThing palettes. Adobe's Design and Web Standard packages have upgraded all my Adobe and previously Macromedia products all at once (for some $700 or so). Add to that, Apple's Final Cut Express HD and associated apps (discussed last week) as well as Filemaker Pro. My Quicken update was not a Universal Binary, dang it, so I'll have to spend money on yet another upgrade sometime. BBEdit was also another converted app. If you need a text editor, try BareBones' TextWrangler – it's free.

The ones I am holding out on are QuarkXPress 7, OmniPage X and Fontographer. Not sure if Fontographer will be (or needs to be) updated, OmniPage X hasn't been updated in a while (besides my scanner does not have an Intel driver – shame on Epson, and VueScan also does OCR) and QuarkXPress 7 has some issues and most people are staying on the 6.5.2 version, including printers.

So all-in-all, not too bad an upgrade process. Results? Yes, I notice that apps are snappier to load and some processes are faster. Many of the updates include enhanced or new features, either because of the age of my previous version or because with the Intel chips they can do more stuff, so that is cool, too. And using Parallels Desktop has been great for running Windows XP without partitioning my drive or having to reboot. And it's fast!

Weird stuff? Yeah, I got some of that. Like Apple's Mail taking 30 seconds to open a Reply window, or the Adobe Suites initial screens to load. Had to re-import my letterhead graphic into FileMaker Pro to get it to look right. My system has frozen up about 6 times in the past month of owning it which is more times than my G5 did in two years. That, I do not like. But like with any change, there is an adjustment period. I'll keep you posted and let you know when things have settled down or if I need to make radical adjustments.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Divine Inspiration

I have always been a pushover for special effects in the movies, always wanted to be the guy behind the scenes doing the miniatures and blowing up things. Who wouldn't? Well, I have been given the opportunity to be the guy behind the scenes for my church, New Colony Baptist. Actually, I have used my work with the church to test out new technologies and software. For example, I used it for my first live test of iWeb, Apple's website creation tool (show me). I also used it for trying phpBB2 forum software (show me), Flash (show me), Podcasts (show me) and even video editing with iMovie and Final Cut Express HD (show me).

What's been the fun part of the video editing is playing with sound and transition effects as well as titling. Titling can be used for opening and end credits, but also can be used within the context of a video for transitions between scenes, or to convey info, set a tone, etc. Final Cut comes with both sound and titling apps, Soundtrack and LiveType. LiveType reminds me a bit of Flash and Director with a dash of Typestyler thrown in (remember that app?). It has a large number of built in effects that you can mix, match, layer and adjust to your liking. You build it as a timeline and then render it as a .mov file that you can import into iMovie HD or Final Cut Express HD. From there it acts just like any other video clip.

For the text portions of this sample video, I created a nebula background in Photoshop (who would've thought I could do that?) and then placed it as a background in LiveType. Then I added the Portal object on top which gives the strobing light effect. Lastly, I added the type, using the Stargate font I found online and a size and transparency effect starting from behind the camera and then shrinking it into place. Well, that's the order I would have done it in, if I knew what I was doing. The interface is oddly non-Mac-like, especially for an Apple product, which is maybe why it's not promoted too much. So I had to fiddle with the commands until I figured out what I was doing. Then I rendered them to video and imported them into iMovie. Splice and dice and voila! – a promo for our church.

You can usually get Final Cut Express with LiveType and Soundtrack included for $99 with the purchase of a new machine or $299 off-the-shelf. Think about the next time you buy hardware, it does much more than iMovie and with these other apps thrown in, it's a bargain price. They are great fun to play with and effects render fast on the Intel Macs. You might even end up doing something productive with them...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

It Tolls for Me...

As many of you know, I took delivery on a brand new 24" iMac Core Duo, with two 2.33GHz processors, 2GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, and a 256 NVidia graphics card. I did this for a couple of reasons. 1.) I had no Intel Mac and I need to be keeping up with technology, 2.) my main machine was over 2 years old, 3.) my Formac display was taking up too much of my desk, 4.) the cat was chewing through all my cables and I wanted to have fewer (cables), and 5.) and they just came out with MYST Online – URU Live that only runs on Intel machines.

In a previous posting, I mentioned the migration from the PowerMac went swimmingly. One thing I have learned about the Migration Assistant is while it copies over all the files not currently on the new Mac, it copies ALL the files over. Old support files, preferences, junk you have accumulated from previous systems and upgrades. So consider this before you upgrade – Point 1. Your system might run better if you simply move your personal files over manually and reinstall the applications yourself. You will end up with a much leaner and probably smoother running system.

Moving to the recent past, last week I experienced quite a shock. I was transferring files from my PowerBook G4 to my iMac, while burning a DVD using Toast 8 Titanium, my iMac froze. "Well," I thought, "I'll wait it out, sometimes it comes back." It didn't. "Well," I considered, "maybe there was a network hang and I will shutdown the laptop and it will come back." It didn't. "Hmm," I said, "maybe I should reboot and it will come back." It didn't. You don't want to know what I said next.

The screen showed me a question mark flashing inside a folder. "Aha!" I shouted, "Merely an OS problem. With all of my data repair utilities I should be able to repair this." DiskWarrior 4, TechTool Pro 4.5, Drive Genius 1.5 – nothing. Not only could they not repair the drive, they couldn't see the partitions. For the unschooled, think of a hard drive as a blank CD and the partitions as tracks on the CD for your music. No tracks, no music. No partitions, no files. Now, I was getting worried. I tried the Apple Disk Utility and came up empty. They all thought the drive was unformatted, like an CD with no tracks. That is B-A-D.

Time for Point 2. Always make sure you have your important files backed up. To me, my important files were my client files. For my wife, it was all our digital photos we had never printed. And no, I hadn't made a backup of either recently, though I did have older backups. I was in big trouble (from my wife and my clients).

Quickly to Point 3. Never, never, never (get the point?), NEVER! reformat, reinstall or otherwise write to the hard drive if you have any intention of recovering your files. Once you write to your drive, you may write over important data that can no longer be recovered. So I tried my last weapon in my depleted arsenal, Data Rescue II, from the makers of Drive Genius and other utilities, ProSoft Engineering. Quick Scan... zippo. Thorough Scan... wait, there is something... I stopped the scan after a few minutes, since it said it would take 12 hours (!) to complete. But when I looked at the results, there was data, names and everything. Whew!

Now came the long wait. I started the Thorough Scan again and went to bed. By 10:00 the next morning it was done. I saw my client files, my photos, my music – pretty much everything. Yes! I started the recovery onto an external hard drive. Point 4. Everyone should have an alternate source of storage, be it another internal drive or an external drive, and make it as big as needed to hold the important stuff. Forget about applications you can reinstall and the OS. You may also want to get one for the new OS 10.5 Leopard, with its Time Machine software that allows you to restore lost or damaged files.

I called Apple during this process and asked for some advice. They pointed me to a Knowledgebase page to try some things after my data recovery. I tried them all to no avail. They made an appointment for me at my local Apple Store in Burlington, so I could get right through. So I went down. There was one guy behind the Genius Bar named Omer. And he was a multitasking fiend. He was talking, diagnosing and setting up with mutliple clients all at once. I have to give him credit, but I have to interject here. Why only one guy? There were several people waiting for service (including me) and the Bar could've used at least one more person, there were several Apple Store employees roaming the store, of course they may not have been Geniuses.

Omer reviewed my problem and ended up re-imaging my drive from a network drive, basically restoring the hard drive to its original state when I bought it. Said if there was a problem with the drive it would show up there. It didn't. So I brought the system back and spent the next couple of days restoring files and reinstalling software. And here I am at the end of the ordeal, no wiser than I was going in.

What caused the problem? I can't be certain, but I have a theory. Remember when I said the utilities couldn't see my partitions? Well, I never use partitions, but in this case I set one up for use with Boot Camp. One of the reasons for getting the iMac was so I could test installing Windows XP and running it as a PC. The Boot Camp software allows you to repartition your drive to create a Windows FAT32 or NTFS file system for Windows to be installed in. Well, I saw no evidence of any Windows files during the recovery process. And I read on the Apple Discussion board that it was potentially dangerous to remove the partition using anything other than Boot Camp. So, I wonder if the crash somehow damaged the partitioning scheme used by Boot Camp, thus affecting my Apple partition. The only other potential causes are either the DVD encoding or the file copy or them both combined. In the meantime, I have resorted to using Parallels Desktop for Macintosh to resolve the partitioning issue. It allows me to run Windows in what's called a Virtual Machine (VM). Basically, it's a file that acts as self-contained hard drive, and doesn't require a separate partition. A little slower, but not bad. And less invasive than Boot Camp. So far, no glitches. Now to recap...

Point 1. During a new system install, move your files over manually and reinstall the applications yourself.
Point 2. Always make sure you have your important files backed up.
Point 3. Never reformat, reinstall or otherwise write to the hard drive after a crash if you want to recover your files.
Point 4. Install another internal or external drive for use with backups.

Remember these points before the next time the bell tolls for you.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Moving on Up

Not to the East Side, mind you, but to the Intel iMac. Yes, I packed up the 2.0 DP G5 tower and 20.1" Formac display and moved up to the 24" iMac 2.3 GHz Intel Core-Duo. The transition was almost completely painless. Although it took about 3 hours to transfer my 120GB worth of data from my previous machine, it accomplished the task flawlessly and without my intervention. Since I had to spend a certain amount to get the maximum rebate from my AABA account, I also sprung for the higher processor, larger drive, more memory and the external USB modem, in addition to the wireless keyboard and Mighty Mouse.

Yes, I know, if you were paying attention, I did mention in an earlier posting that I thought wireless peripherals were unnecessary with a desktop system. But it's one of those situations where actual experience does seem to make a difference. I did immediately go out and procure a set of rechargeable batteries, to salve my conscious somewhat.

So now I am on this spanking new machine. It has given me back my desk, since the easel stand on the Formac required more space, it has cut down on cable clutter, it has removed the 50 lb. tower I kept banging my knees into, and it has removed the speaker system I used, since the speakers on the iMac are decent and right on my desk. I can even vacuum under my desk! Amazing. It very well may cut my electricity usage since I don't have as many external peripherals going.

As for the actual running of the machine, it works great. Another posting of mine touted the usefulness of DragThing and again, it surprised me with it's versatility. It marked every application icon that runs under Rosetta in its palette with a little "R." How cool is that? So I can see which apps (unfortunately too many) run under Rosetta. All my Adobe apps, QuarkXPress, FileMaker, BBEdit, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, etc... but that story has a happy ending, too.

The Adobe CS3 suite of apps is 2 days from being on the shelves and already available at Adobe's website. All the apps are now Universal Binary, which means native on Intel and PowerPC machines. That includes all the previously Macromedia owned products like Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash. That about takes care of all my mainstream apps in one fell swoop. I can't wait.

What else? Boot Camp. Now that I have an Intel Mac, I was able to check out Boot Camp. Through this beta software provided by Apple, you can partition your drive and install the Windows operating system (I know, "yuck"). Now normally, as a Mac user, I would never support my friends and clients doing this. But since I have pretty much always owned both Macs and PCs, it is nice to be able to do what little needs to be done on a PC without having to boot another machine up. For example, I receive a newsletter in Publisher format every month that I need to open and convert to PDF. Now I can do it from my iMac.

The only thing I dislike is having to shut down and reboot to use Windows. Since I do so little in Windows, it seems a waste of time to have to restart my Mac every time I want to do something that usually takes only a few minutes. Enter Parallels Desktop. Now this is cool. It allows you to run Windows in – you guessed it – a window. Right within OS X. You are not limited to Windows, either. You can install what are called Virtual Machines, that allow you to run many different operating systems, including Linux, all within their own windows, share your network connections, peripherals, even files in some cases. I tried the 30-day demo, and it works very well. It even is smart enough to let you use your Boot Camp partition as the Windows VM. So you only need install Windows once (whew!).

If you want full hardware performance, than boot into Boot Camp. But if you are using Windows to do the odd task or use a productivity app not on the Mac, or even leverage your investment in PC apps for those coming over to the Mac for the first time, then Parallels Desktop is for you.

That's it for now. More revelations on the iMac, associated software and hardware to come. It's finally sunny after what seems to be weeks, I'm going for a walk.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blogging Nirvana

Ok, I have been officially blogging for 1 year, 2 months and 11 days and have written 25 articles. While it may not make me an expert in blogging, I can safely say I have some experience doing it.

Originally, I used Text Edit or BBEdit to write the articles, then I would cut and paste them into the New Post window on Blogger where I would tweak them, add links and upload pictures.

Then I graduated to using just the browser to write the posts. But, depending on the browser, I would get different results. Firefox gave me full set of editing controls, Safari gave me a more limited set.

Also, I was always afraid I would lose what I had written if the browser unexpectedly quit or if I decided to move to another provider for my blog. In addition, you always have to wait between some commands in order to be able to save a draft or preview or publish your post.

Then I stumbled upon offline blog editors. These programs allow you the convenience of an email or word processor interface in addition to being able to manage and upload your posts when you're done. Nice. In fact, I am writing this post using a program called MarsEdit. Let's hear it for another local software programmer!

Can you say "WOW"? Sure you can! I downloaded, installed and setup this program, retrieved all my past posts and setup my account and started writing. Total startup time: less than 5 minutes. Read the manual? Nah! I'm not even sure there is one.

MarsEdit supports multiple blogs, on multiple blogging systems, including Blogger, WordPress, TypePad and Movable Type. It uploads images along with your posts. Save drafts, preview posts, edit previous posts, spell-checking, add HTML tags, even build your own. You can even tag posts with category labels for quick sorts along with name, date and Weblog sorts.

Then there are the more esoteric features supported like automatic pinging of blog search engines, support for third-party text filters and bookmarklets. Also, MarsEdit can use an external edit like BBEdit and Textwrangler. In addition, it's fully Apple-Scriptable.

Anything missing? Well, it would be nice to have a count or statistics feature in the Edit window so you can tell how many posts either overall or by Weblog you have made and maybe how many have visited the site (maybe a tie-in to a stat-tracking page like Google Analytics). And currently, there is no image upload feature for Blogger (dang!) but that seems to be a Blogger issue more than MarsEdit, since Blogger doesn't support external image uploads – yet. But after reading some forum posts, that feature is on it's way. That's about it, other than the price.

At $24.95, it's an expensive alternative to the existing, free methods of posting. If you manage multiple blogs, it pays for itself with a single user interface and multiple blog access. Maybe a less expensive version for maintaining a single blog would lure more users. A regular and a Pro version, say. But overall, an excellent, well-designed application.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Licensed to Use

*** Insert James Bond Intro Here ***

While keeping track of your software may not be as exciting as watching a James Bond flick, it could be as challenging as watching Mr. Bond fight the forces of evil in defense of England and the world. Maybe you have dozens of little post-it notes or the original software boxes on shelves or you find you have made more shareware purchases over the years and no hard filing system for all those downloads and online purchases. I have a client who is looking for a way to track the software assets on individual systems for the purpose of determining how many licenses they own of each product. This led me to my latest tale of intrigue in tracking down chief software suspects.

For those on a budget, there are simple ways to do this. In any word processor, simply make a list or, even better, a table and add columns for software title, version number, serial number, maybe date purchased/upgraded, and the companies website and technical support number. If you own a spreadsheet program like Excel or even a database program like FileMaker, you can easily customize the layout, print reports and more.

There's a shareware application called Software & Hardware Tracker 4.2 that is based on FileMaker which I had purchased some years ago. I was actually able to find the website and download the most current copy. It now works using a run-time version of FileMaker, which is a good thing because it's the 5.x version and not the 7.x or 8.x that is available now. Probably the most comprehensive version of all the software I reviewed but suffers from an antiquated user interface and overly complex means of accessing and entering data. The cool thing about is that it allows companies to create users (called workstations) and then assign versions of applications to each. It also allows for historical recording, versions purchased, costs, etc. allowing you to track every upgrade. You also can build a product list by software company too, eventually easing data input since all the individual database files can be cross referenced. This is the only app in the review that has complete reporting capability as well. There are a lot of good things to say about this program, it's too bad that user experience (especially entering data) is so complicated. It would do well with tool tips and more meaningful icons. But if you want all the details, this one's for you. Cost is $15 for single workstation, $25 for unlimited workstations (for a company) and $50 for full layout and script access. Their website mentions a complete re-write of the application for FileMaker 7.x called Xware Tracker. They have an enticing screen shot (see final screen shot, left) of the proposed new interface and it looks promising, but it's still vaporware.

LicenseKeeper 1.0.1
Remember my mantra. If it looks cool and works cool, buy it. This is another one of those programs, this time by a local yokel. It truly evokes the Mac-ness of software interfaces – Drag and Drop, Spot Light, Toolbar, great use of icons, easy-to-use, etc. An awesome feature is the Attachments, which allows to add highlighted email (such as registrations and receipts) from Apple's Mail program and copies the email to the application, even parsing the serial number and automatically adding it to the field. How cool is that? I can't wait for future versions, which after having communicated with the author, will include categorizing of the list, and I sincerely hope, printing. I would suggest making tweaks using iTunes and iPhoto as guides, for creating software albums or playlists – essentially folders for organizing software under user or application type. Maybe a way of adding duplicates for multiple copies of software, too. But for the printing, a must-have. $19.95.

Licensed 1.0b1
Here's a freebie that is a great alternative to LicenseKeeper. Not as slick or as tricked-out, but it does the job. Nice that it automatically adds the version number to the listing (but I wish it did that with the company, too). Also uses Spotlight. Doesn't allow for attachments, nor does it use links to websites or emails, which the others feature. And there's no printing, which to me is a deal-killer. But hey, it works and it's free.


Software Tracker 1.3
YAFA (Yet Another FileMaker App). But all things considered, not a bad one. Works similarly to the Personal Serial Database mentioned below, lists important info first and can enter into a detail screen. The problem I have with this is similar to SHT 4.2, in that it seems very complicated to do a simple delete record. You have to find the record, edit the record and then delete. Three steps is too many for me. Allows you to add an image of the software, though it would be nice to do something automatic like LicenseKeeper (I mean, it's painful enough to do the input without having to worry about finding or scanning graphics). And the cost at $40 is simply outrageous, considering the less expensive and even free alternatives that do a better job. Wouldn't let me print from the demo, but since it's a database app, I'm willing to conjecture that it does a decent job of listing the information in a concise manner.

info.xhead 1.3
A nicely designed little app that uses Apple's Address Book as the basis for its design. At $15 it's a good deal, but you get what you pay for, which is not a lot of customization. No separate company and version fields, printing doesn't allow for line listings only, so reports would eat up too much paper.

Personal Serial Database 1.6
A FileMaker Pro 5.5 run-time database application that doesn't suffer as much from the interface issues of the Software & Hardware Tracker mentioned earlier. Has a nice, compact layout, and shows the important stuff in a list, while giving you the option to see the full detail. I couldn't find a link to the software on the developer's website, which makes me wonder if he has abandoned it, but you can get it from VersionTracker. And it blows the socks off of the other FileMaker contender Software Tracker, since it's free. Unfortunately, it seems to only print the layout screen. Weird. It's capable of so much more since it's built on FileMaker.

Well, yes, we want to maintain as much data electronically as possible, but it's still a necessity to be able to print reports for personal backup, security, insurance, etc. So while I'm crazy about LicenseKeeper, even a bad job at printing is better than none. So if reporting is a must, Software & Hardware Tracker, followed by info.xhead. Otherwise, it's LicenseKeeper all the way.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Where did all my drive space go?

Ok, there I was, deep in the Amazon jungle... No, wait... this is the wrong blog. Let me start again. Ok, there I was, cursor deep in the directory structure of my hard drive, slogging through documents and applications, not knowing which files were hogging space. There was no way out. When, suddenly, a friend put out his hand to drag me to the shores of sanity – OmniDiskSweeper (ODS). How can such a little application save me from the depths of madness? I'll tell you.

ODS from The Omni Group, bringers of programs such as OmniWeb, OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner and more, has a nice little app here that does one thing – sizes all your files. All of them. Hidden files can run but they can't hide from the sweeper. After sweeping your drive, it presents you with a list, nicely organized by file size, that you can navigate, tracking down recreant files and eliminating them. Right off the bat, I found two StuffIt Expander temporary folders holding 5GB (yes, that's GB) worth of unneeded data. Whoo-hoo! It was also able to find ghost files in the /Volumes folder that saved me another 10GB.

Wow, what a cost saver. If we were to run out and purchase a extra drive every time we ran low on storage space, we' d be up to our CPUs in external drive cases and power bricks. For a measly $14.92, you simply can't go wrong. Anyone get the $14.92? Check here for details... You can get a one-day activation license at the website to try it out.

In the interest of fair reporting, there is another program available that does a similar thing called WhatSize? (WS?) by ID-Design, Inc. It's free and has some additional functionality including variable display modes (table, bar and pie chart), color-coded file ranges (files 0KB-.9MB are green, files 1MB-.9GB are purple, files 1GB and up are red), and alternating row colors for easier reading. It also sports a more typical OS X interface with a toolbar across the top, sporting most of the program's commands.

Oddly enough, neither program has a Move command, allowing you relocate large files to another location, should you wish to retain them. I ran a time test to see which app takes less time to scan a volume, here are the results. For an internal SATA 160GB drive that was 76.5GB full, WS? took 3:11 to scan, ODS took 2:42, about 29% faster. For an external 400GB drive, connected via FireWire 800, of which 259GB were used, WS? took 00:58 to complete and ODS took 00:48 to complete, about 21% faster.

Also, WS? rescans every time you click on a Volume (though you can stop it with a command), and ODS pops a new window up for each volume and doesn't rescan. I do like everything in one window in the WS? interface, but it is annoying to have the volumes rescanning. Both apps color code by file size, and although it's not a bad feature, it may be unneeded due to the file size column.

DANGER, WILL ROBINSON: This type of application is not for the faint of heart or the inexperienced user. Delete only files that you have created or installed. Stay out of the System folder and any other OS related location. You can seriously mess up your OS if you accidentally delete files you aren't supposed to.

It would be nice if the applications would caution you prior to deletion or had an index of files that shouldn't be deleted to cross-reference by. Even some kind of un-delete feature that pulls stuff out of the Trash for you or a pre-Trash directory that only goes into the Trash when you quit the program, would be nice. All of these functions should be able to be turned off in Preferences for power users.

All that being said, they are useful applications to have around.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

FTP, OS X Style

While many people's thoughts turn to love on this Valentine's Day, mine turn to FTP clients. Ok, so I have a problem. But my problem is your gain, since you will learn the dish on the latest and greatest FTP clients for Mac OS X.

So what is FTP? FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. It's a means of transferring files too large to send via email. Most email servers have a limit on the size of attachments that can be sent through them, typically in the 5MB-10MB range. FTP has no size limit other than the capacity of the server you are transferring the file to.

FTP is one of the original internet protocols, but has only really come into vogue the last few years because of the massive amounts of data being transferred hither and yon across the width and breadth of the internet.

OS X even has FTP built into it, accessible through the Connect menu in the Finder. But it's really a very basic version, and misses many of the niceties found in dedicated clients. Though there are many clients out there, I am going to focus on the ones I have either used or found on VersionTracker.

Understanding the Lingo
Most of the things I mention should be self-evident, but here are a few that might not be.

Type-Ahead
means the ability for the application to fill the rest of your request with matching items you have typed before, much like Safari and other apps can do. It seems a trivial thing, but when you build your bookmark or favorites list, it sure saves time.

Local View shows a local directory window in addition to the remote window and lets you drag and drop between them. All the apps support drag and drop from the Desktop. It's just nice not to always bother with the Finder, especially if you have a lot of other programs and files open.

Sidebar is the same as in any Finder window, which shows you commonly accessed items like the hard drive and your home folder and other items you can drag there.

Support All of these programs support drag and drop from the Finder, FTP and SFTP protocols, bookmarks or favorites, and synchronization (except NetFinder).

Captain FTP 4.5

Shiver me timbers, Matey! We have fully-functional FTP client here. Supports all the typical transfer protocols, including iDisk. There is a Dashboard-compatible widget, type ahead, customizable toolbar, and the cost is an acceptable $25. Special killer feature: it supports peer-to-peer file sharing. The only down side is no preview pane, and the interface, while good, is un-Mac-like just enough to be disconcerting.

Cyberduck 2.73

Cyberducky, you're the one, to make my FTPing so much fun... No preview, no local view, no notification, but a nice interface, type ahead, folder sizes, customizable toolbar, sync, iDisk, Spotlight and Dashboard support. Nice auto-updating feature. And with donation-ware, you pay what you want – or not at all. This program is improving all the time.

Fetch 5.2

Ok, boy... go get it! One of the more venerable FTP applications out there and once free, Fetch is one of the major FTP contenders if for nothing else its recognizability. It's had enough time to polish it's features and interface and has done a pretty good job of it. Like Cyberduck, it doesn't support preview, local view, notification or type-ahead. And you can only calculate folder sizes on a single item or a groups of items, you're not able to calculate a bunch of items individually. It does support Dashboard and has a customizable toolbar. Cost is also $25.

Interarchy 8.5.1

Interarchy has everything to do with integration. Just look at its interface and advanced, OS X-compatible feature list and you'll know they are not messing around. Though it's lacking local view, preview, and notify features, it supports virtually everything OS X and FTP from icon view to webDAV and iDisk to Dashboard. Odd that it doesn't have the sidebar, which would really make it OS X compliant. The only thing negative I can say about it is the price, which at $60 is more than double most of the other offerings. Most people, I think, would not find the extra cost worth it. But it's a darn good program.

NetFinder 2.3.3

Another veteran like Fetch from way back in OS 9, NetFinder was the definitive Mac FTP application in its day due to its similarity to OS 9. But even with its OS X makeover, it really hasn't made the jump to full OS X functionality. In addition, it's the only app reviewed here with no synchronization support. Fun but potentially annoying feature: voice alerts. And on top of it all, lack of current technology features and aging interface, it's $35. Unfortunately, I think NetFinder has lost its own way.

Transmit

Toot, toot... Hey... beep, beep. Ok, I love Panic software. They have all things cool from their website to their products to their logos and widgets, they do stuff right and they do it Mac. They support all the features I compared for each app with the exception of type-ahead. The only implementation that needs improvement is their folder calculation which doesn't calculate a group of folders separately. Slightly more expensive at $30, it's the best extra $5 you'll spend on software.

Yummy! FTP

Less filling, tastes great! These guys have piqued my curiosity. They seem very much in the mold of Panic, great website, seemingly good product, Mac integration, etc. I dock them a few points on the interface, since though it mimics Transmit somewhat, it's just missing a little of the spit and polish on the icons and the notification space seems a little over large. It claims vast speed improvements over the others, but I'm not sure that's an advantage for most users who have locally-capped upload speeds. It imports bookmarks from all the other apps other than NetFinder. Keep an eye on these guys. Cost is also $25.

Conclusion
With the sad exception of NetFinder, you can't go wrong with any of these applications. The only features to sway you are the interface style and the cost. I didn't review every single feature in each program, but as a fairly typical user of these apps, I looked at the features that are most important to me – the interface, bookmarking, uploading and OS X integration. Your requirements may be different. I own NetFinder and Transmit, have used older versions of Fetch, and have played with the other apps to get a pretty good feel for how they work. They all have trial versions, so take a test drive for yourself.