Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Where Do I Go?

When I need info and assistance for the Mac? That's what I am going to share in my blog with you this week. You don't need to be formally taught to learn about as much as the pros do, you just need to know where to look for the info.

For example, I had a friend whose Blueberry iMac G3 just upped and died. We guessed it was the power supply. And while I have some experience in replacing components in Macs and PCs, this was going to be a tricky one, since this was an all-in-one computer and pretty much had to be stripped down to get to the power supply.

I performed a Google search and found a disassembly procedure for the exact Mac I was going to take apart, complete with photos. Then I went onto eBay to try to find a replacement, but I had no luck. Fortunately, I was registered with Blue Raven Technology (formerly Pre-Owned Electronics) and I was able to order one from there. Sweet! The Internet is truly a wonderful place. Put it to work for you.

News and Reviews
Want to buy an external hard drive, or a scanner, maybe a printer? Want to see what other people think of the computer and peripherals you just bought? How about recommending something to a friend or a client? These are some great places to look. The first two sites are Mac-specific. The other two are sites with a broader scope. All offer means to search their site. CNet has some great comparison tools, as well as written and video reviews and user comments, too. A word to the wise. Don't get overwhelmed by user comments. For every one dissatisfied user who writes, there are ten satisfied ones who don't. So stick with the facts and the opinions of some of the reviewers. Check the user comments last. Another note, Consumer Reports allows free access to a limited range of articles. The whole site can be accessed for a monthly fee.

Consumer Reports

News and Rumors
Want the dish on the latest Mac happenings? Know about new software or hardware before it's official? Check out these sites for some potentially revealing information.

Think Secret

Parts is parts, right? Wrong! Macintosh replacement parts and used systems are not always easy to come by, one of the only downsides to Apple's grip on its product. But you can find parts from these and other dealers who can offer warranties, advanced exchanges and trade-ins.

Blue Raven Technology
Shreve Systems

Install memory, replace the hard drive, or for the adventurous, overclock your processor. If you need to get into your Mac, these are some of the places that can be useful. Mactracker is the only program mentioned in this article, because it's like the Britannica for Mac specs. Comes in a Windows application, too, oddly enough. Everything from port listings to startup chimes, it has it all. And it's free!

Apple Specifications

I have found that users are some of the best sources of solutions for my clients woes and the best place to find them is on various discussion boards. Apple's is almost always one of my first stops when looking for similar situations, many hardware and software manufacturers also maintain their own boards, like Adobe/Macromedia and Quark. Then there are some specific tech sites, like MacFixIt, Macintouch and the X Lab. And of course, you can almost always find help using an internet search engine like Google. Like Consumer Reports MacFixIt can be fully accessed by yearly subscription. But if you are looking for that type of info a lot, then it's worth it.

A special mention for VersionTracker – I go there every day. Updates, upgrades, patches, shareware and freeware can all be found on the site. The most commonly recurring problems can be solved by running the latest version of your apps or finding just the right utility to help in a particular situation. You can even subscribe and get the software that scans your system and have it tell you whether there is a more current version available and then download it!

Apple Discussion Boards
Manufacturer's Discussion Boards
The X Lab

Some of these sites could be listed under more than one category, I just placed them in the category I might refer to them most often. Of course, I'm sure there are other sites as well. Feel free to mention them by adding your comments below.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I'm Just Crazy About IM

It's all about communication, it's all about reaching out and touching someone or a lot of someones. Face-to-face, letter, telegraph, telephone, email, text messaging and the now ubiquitous Instant Messaging (IM). If you're a family person with teens or pre-teens, you may find them spending more time on iChat than on the phone. Or doing chores. Or doing homework. Ah, but that's another story.

When online services were also content providers like AOL, GEnie, CompuServe and the like, it was hard to get people connected online. Sure there was email, but it wasn't very immediate. Ok for business, not so ok for personal communication. Then AOL developed AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) as an subscriber bonus. Everyone who was a member could now talk instantly to other members online. Good subscriber tool, get everyone on AOL and then you could type to them as much as you want, even be notified when they come online. Cool.

But then the Internet boom. Everyone could now get online without a content provider. They had direct access to the internet. Web, FTP, Gopher, all the services direct without a middleman like AOL. So AOL released AIM to the public, no subscription required. By then other companies were also taking a look at the IM phenomenon. Namely Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft came out with MSN Messenger and Apple with iChat. Then ICQ, Yahoo, and Jabber and many others. Now there are custom services like Xfire, which is for gamers and a whole new generation of chat tools that allow text, audio and video. On the Mac, you can access Xfire though the Xblaze plugin for AdiumX.

So what good is it? Plenty! I use it primarily to check to see who is around. Plug all my clients and buddies screen names in and when they are online or just on their computer, I know it. Then if I want to send them a quick message, I know they'll get it quickly. What, as in my case, if they are all on different services? Easy. I use a multi-protocol IM client that can speak the various languages of the different IM services.

Let's see... AIM bought ICQ. Apple's iChat is an AIM client. That means that iChat users have access to everyone who has an AIM, ICQ or .Mac account. It's already multi-protocol. Nice! What about MSN, Yahoo, Jabber and the rest? Well, three Mac contenders that address most of the popular ones are AdiumX, Fire and Proteus. They all support AIM, iChat, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo. Adium has a plugin architecture for future services (like Xfire and GoogleTalk). They have features like themes for visual and audio cues, icons, text and the like.

The downside? They may not completely support all the features of a particular service, like audio and video or file transfers. Another downside is that they require that you have a separate account with each of the services. That isn't too painful though. You just need to signup, pick a screen name and password and then plug those into the software. The rest is transparent. Another annoying thing is that if the service doesn't maintain your Buddy List, you may have to rebuild it for each. Luckily, AIM and MSN maintain that info on the servers.

What can they do? Instant messaging, chat rooms (conferencing), audio and sometimes video for both single and group chat, file transfers, sending links. Pretty good stuff. Some have encrypted chat for the privacy-minded. Chat histories provide a reference in case you forgot something. You can list current iTunes song, web page, active application. Yeah, stuff that might not be critical, but interesting and fun. That's ok, too.

And be aware of the audio- and video-based apps for both home and business. iSpyQ and iVisit for audio/video use. The in-game voice chat software of choice is TeamSpeak and TeamSpeex for Mac, as well as Ventrilo. The heavily subscribed Skype and new comer SightSpeed for voice and video telephone-like service. Most of these are either free or have free-with-limitation accounts.

So sign up for one or maybe a bunch. The toughest part will be coming up with a screen name that hasn't been taken by someone else. And you'll be a believer, too.