Monday, July 28, 2008

If it's broke, do you have to fix it?

In the recent demise of my wireless router, no! Just last week, after several days of freakish weather including thunderstorms that shook the house, I entered my office to find that the lights were out on my TrendNet wireless router, and absolutely no one was home. Funny thing was, it was plugged into my APC BackUPS 500 CLR and no other devices were damaged, so I'm left scratching my head, trying to figure out if it was related to the storm or simply a failure of the device. Of course, I will replace it eventually, since the temporary solution is just that – temporary. But you can breathe easy knowing if you ever experience a failure of your router and can't immediately replace it, there is an option that will help you out until you do.

First, I am assuming you are using DSL or Cable as your connection to the internet, that you are using more than one computer, and that you are using a router to connect the other computers to the internet via wire or wireless means. If the router is part of your internet service device, you probably need to call your service provider.

Next you need to turn off everything – Cable/DSL modem, router, and computers. Then connect your modem to your primary computer directly, bypassing the router (it's broken, remember?). Turn on the modem, wait for the startup test to complete and then turn on your computer. You should be able to get online at this point. Pretty easy so far. Now, if you are planning on using a wired LAN, you need a switch or a hub. Most of them have an Uplink port. Unplug the cable from the back of your Mac and plug it into the Uplink port on the switch/hub. Now plug another cable into any of the numbered ports and then into the back of the Mac. Now turn the switch/hub on. You should still be able to connect to the internet through this method. Go ahead and attach any other computers or printers that were wired before into the numbered ports, but don't turn them on just yet.

Now it's time to set up the software. This little gem is found in the Sharing control panel. On the left, you'll see the line Internet Sharing. Wait! Don't check it just yet. To the right you'll see a popup that says Share your Ethernet connection from:. Make sure to select Ethernet, since this is how the connection is currently being made to the modem. Then just below that is a widow that has a series of check boxes with the title, To computers using: Just check off the ones that are appropriate. If you only use wireless, select Airport, if you only use CAT5 network cables, select Ethernet. Select both if you are planning to use both. If you use Parallels or Fusion, you may also need to check off other options as well. When you click Ethernet, you will get an error message. Say ok and move on. If you experience problems with this later, you may not be able to use this solution. Then simply place a checkmark next to Internet Sharing on the left and you are done. You should be able to power up the other devices on your LAN and connect. I was able to connect both my wired and wireless computers this way (PCs and Macs).

So it works, great! Why not just use it this way? Well, mainly because it means leaving your computer on all the time. For me, that's a no-no. Also, I noticed that while it works, things are a little slower on the other computers and some functionality is lost on my main system, mainly AV chat through iChat. Certainly nothing major but it's an energy waste and and annoyance both of which I can live without.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What's the secret word?

Anyone who remembers the old Groucho Marx TV Show "You Bet Your Life" knows that Groucho would always ask, "What's the secret word?" at a particular point in the show. Today, in our heightened concern for security, we are getting asked for the secret word everywhere we go – especially online. Stores, banks, for making purchases, filling out forms, etc. And we're supposed to remember all of them? Gimme a break. Or better yet, write them down on a piece of paper, Post-It or store it a file on the computer. Sure, I know you do that, because I do it myself. There's gotta be a better way. Apple has tried to fill the gap using the System Keychain, but it's not very secure and doesn't hold all the data you might like it to.

Enter the folks at Agile Web Solutions and their product 1Password 2.7 (1P). It is the program that handles all of your online security and form processing. With a single password, you can access every single secret tidbit you use across the entire breadth of the internet. You don't ever have to remember each individual password again. Plus, it can also auto-generate Strong passwords that are tougher to crack. My problem with Strong passwords in the past were that they were easy to forget and a pain to type. 1P handles both with ease, keeping your info safe and secure and making entry easy for you.

After launching the app for the first time, it installs an internet plugin that can be used in any browser that supports them. You then create a single password you will use to access your info in the application or through your browser. 1P automatically will import all the existing data stored in your browsers. Afterwards, make sure to turn off the Remember Passwords feature in the browser(s) you are using and then clear the data from your browser, you won't be needing it anymore.

That's pretty much it. Now when browsing, you'll notice a new key icon at the top of your browser window. Anytime you come to a site where you've been before, pop that baby open and select the login from the list and Poof! 1P fills it out and even hits the submit button for you. For those of us who like to make purchases online, 1P can keep your credit card info secure as well. You can create a Wallet file for each of your cards and choose which to use during checkout. It does remarkably well handling the forms from most of the online retailers, making checkout a breeze. Also, you can create and store multiple Identities so if the computer is being used by multiple people or you are using other people's credit cards (with their permission, of course), you don't have to type that info over and over.

What about new sites? 1P knows when you are entering data on a new site and asks to store the info for you, optionally providing you a dialog to name the location. Even sites that are password protected through dialogs, you'll find a little key icon right in the dialog box, for either storing or recalling info from a previous visit.

Need to make changes? You can go into the application itself and either edit existing entries or build new entries (Wallets, Identities, Passwords or Notes only) from scratch. The only thing I will add is the more thoroughly you fill out the new entries, the more time it will save you down the line. More features, you say? Well, what about syncing your secure data on Agile's secure servers? Now you can access your password info from anywhere! How about syncing your info to your Palm, iPhone or iPod Touch? Yep, it can do that too.

Unlock 1P once either in the app or in your browser and it will stay unlocked during use, even if you switch between browsers. If you run off for a bit, the program and browser access will automatically lock out after a period of time. New to version 2.7 is the Bookmarks feature, which will allow you to both navigate to and auto enter your data for that site, saving you from navigating to that site first in your browser.

Down sides? What happens when you have the program set to automatically record new logins and you make a mistake? You now have multiple listings for the same site and unless you go in to the app immediately and take it out, the next time you login you will have more than one option to choose from, some which will have the wrong data. Also when you are filling out, say, a registration form for a site that you only need to do once, 1P will remember that too and may or may not fill in the login properly next time, which might call for either an edit or another entry.

Another problem I have is with multiple systems. It seems that syncing online establishes a new connection with each system. What if I want access to the same passwords on more than one system and I don't want to use the web feature? I couldn't seem to find a way to sync passwords for multiple systems.

But those issues aside, this is a worthy time-saving product that will put many of your security fears to rest. As you can see, I have over 500 web form entries, and I am sure there are many instances of duplication. But you really can't fault the app for that. Most of the time, it doesn't even distract me. And at $34.95 really is a good price for an app you will probably use every day. There are even times when there is a special discount and the deal becomes that much sweeter. But why wait? Buy it now and save yourself hours of re-typing and a few brain cells to boot.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Web Builder's Review – Sandvox (1.2.7)

Finally, we come to the last installment of my Web Builder's Review series. Today we are looking at Karelia Software's Sandvox (SV), Apple Design Award's 2007 runner up for the Best OS X User Experience. The folks at Karelia were kind enough to give me a temporary license key to allow me to test the full features of this app, for which I and my readers are grateful.

It appears at first blush that Sandvox and RapidWeaver (RW) were identical twins separated at birth. They both sport a similar interface that shows you the page list on the left, the current page on the right and an Inspector for many of the features with which the user can modify the pages. But upon closer inspection, you can see that they took different approaches to the user experience. RW works in Edit mode and allows you to Preview. In SV (as in iWeb), you edit in Preview mode. I like this approach better, especially for handling things like the sidebars, which are kind of a pain to edit in RW. In fact, it goes one step beyond either of the other apps by allowing you to edit the raw HTML (Pro version only), which seems to be one of the major drawbacks of this level of software. For someone like me, this is a necessity, for basic to moderate users, maybe not so much.

Another page building feature I like is their use of Collections, Pages, and Pagelets. Collections are basically folders for similar types of items, such as photos, blogs or lists. Pages give you a wide range of standard page types from text to photos to contact forms. The Pagelets cap it all off by giving little code "cheats" of popular features on many sites like counters, Digg list, Amazon list, Flickr badge, IM status and many more. If that isn't enough for you, you can use the Code Inject feature to insert code common to every page in the site or use the Raw Edit feature to customize individual pages. One last thing is the ability to name every page and add individual keywords, which is nice for when you export, or if you decide to hand the site over to someone else who is using another app.

There is also a collapsable panel at the top showing you the various site designs. Coolness is in the details and it shows when you click the arrow to scroll through the designs. The angling of the icons is a nice touch. Still, it would be nice to be able to see all the thumbnails on a page rather than having to always scroll the entire list to find what you want. You can apply a new design to the site with one click of the mouse, just as in RW. SV comes with 37 designs and you can get 5 free by signing up for their email alerts.

Another excellent feature is it's iLife integration. It sports a Media Browser that allows you to drag and drop photos, movies and audio files on your pages from your iLife apps or from other locations on your drive. They also added the ability to do the same with web links. Karelia even makes this available as a free standalone app, so you can use it system-wide. That's a nice touch.

Picture handling was so-so, compared to iWeb but similar to RW. One annoying thing is that it seems to have done something funny to my opening image which didn't appear in the other apps. You can check out the entire sample site here.

On the Info page I tried to create an iFrame for a Google Map, but was unable to get the map to come up by itself, I always ended up with the whole page which couldn't display in a tiny window. I was able to accomplish this fine in RW.

Another issue is the use of the parent/child sidebar. It's a good concept, being able to check a button that automatically uses the code from a parent page, but if the child page also has similar code, such as a link to an RSS feed, there then would be two of them on the same page, which was a little confusing to me so I know it would be confusing to less experienced users.

I couldn't find a way to make bulleted lists other than typing the code in Raw mode, other than simply typing the text with numbers or bullets manually. That's kind of odd. RW has a nice graphical shortcut list of common HTML stylings at the bottom of the page which is quite convenient.

As for the blog and podcast pages, it's both simpler and more complicated than RW. In RW you have a list where you can view titles, add new items, delete items, etc. In SV, you have a Collection (folder) and within the Collection are pages, but with no centralized way of looking at them. And there are no pages specifically for podcasts, you just have to add text pages and then add a Movie pagelet to the sidebar or where ever. I don't know maybe I am too used to the way it's done in RW, but if you have a large number of these items, I think it would be harder to manage them this way. On a positive note, it appears that looking at the XML data, the date and time of the listings are posted, but not the length.

Ok, now for the summary. iWeb started it all, it's free with new Macs, part of the impressive iLife collection that nets a bounch 'o apps for short money, is completely integrated with the Mac and iTunes and it very easy to use. The downside is that it lacks the ability to edit the content of the pages, has too few Themes, is not extensible and caters to its own .Mac service.

Sandvox is impressive for its level of editabilty, user interface, greater number of Designs and Pagelet code snippets. The downside is it doesn't exactly support podcast pages and is also not directly extensible.

For me, Rapidweaver gets the nod for the huge number of Themes, its ability to edit blogs and podcast in a central location, and its outstanding extensibility (there are plugins for virtually everything – most 3rd party themes and plugins cost money). But it's not perfect either, with its Edit/Preview modes, no direct compatibility with iTunes RSS tags and its lack of dedicated support (saying that their developers are making better versions of RW and don't have time to answer questions is not a plus for me).

Hope you found this useful and I apologize for taking so long to complete this series. Hopefully, I get some shorter reviews out there in the coming weeks.