Leopard Initial Observations — Sherlock is Dead

I have a few initial observations about the new Mac OS X release 10.5 “Leopard”:

It takes an unbelievably long time to “validate the install DVD”. In my case it was over 45 minutes on a dual processor Intel box. Overall the install took over two hours to complete.

It takes a long time to boot up after the install and with no status messages or displays. Be patient, it will eventually boot up. And don’t panic that the dock doesn’t show up for a few minutes after your desktop.

So far, I haven’t found anything that Leopard has broken. I tried to be diligent about installing all of the application updates before running the apps for the first time. That seems to have worked.

Sherlock is gone. It apparently gets deleted as part of the installation. I don’t recall reading anything about this ‘feature’. If you have the developer documentation installed and perform a Spotlight search for Sherlock there is “Legacy Document” notice plastered on the top of the Sherlock index.html doc that proclaims “Important: Sherlock is unsupported in Mac OS X v10.5 and later”. Most all references to it have been removed from the apple.com web site. It’s a shame, I found that utility very useful.

Cosmetically, I am not wild about the color gradient on the title bar and the cheesy 3D effect on the dock makes it difficult to see what applications are active if you have a lot of applications on the doc. I think it would have made more sense to give the doc icon a contrasting ‘halo’ to show that it was active rather than a low contrast tiny pip of a ‘reflection’ in front of a running app. It is also difficult to determine where dock apps stop and where minimized apps begin — the lane marker takes more time than it should to pick out in a crowded dock.

I like the spaces implementation as I am one to open piles of windows when I am working. Spaces makes it much easier to manage than Expose. Cover View in finder is still a ‘meh’ gratuitous eye candy thing for me at the moment.

My cheap Logitech 3 button USB mouse glitched after the system went to sleep. That is when woke the Mac up, moving the mouse actually caused Dashboard to activate while the mouse pointer remained solidly fixed in place. Unplugging and re-plugging the mouse’s USB connector revived it, though.

So far, so good.

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iDDOS Source is Cisco Not Apple

It comes as no surprise that Duke’s network issues were ultimately found to lie with Cisco and not with the Apple iPhone. After all, if this was a general issue with the iPhone, every open wifi connection in San Francisco (and other me-too gadget locales) would have been crashing just like Duke’s.

Other than applying a patch from Cisco, the root-cause remains a bit murky:

“Cisco has provided a fix that has been applied to Duke’s network and the problem has not occurred since,” the statement read. Cisco did not describe what the source of the problem was. Late on June 20, Duke released a statement elaborating on the problem and how it was resolved. “The reality is that a particular set of conditions made the Duke wireless network experience some minor and temporary disruptions in service,” said Tracy Futhey, the university’s chief information officer, in a statement. “Those conditions involve our deployment of a very large Cisco-based wireless network that supports multiple network protocols. Cisco worked closely with Duke and Apple to identify the source of this problem, which was caused by a Cisco-based network issue,” the statement said.

Sounds like one of those political non-apologies where ‘mistakes have been made’ but no admission of guilt or responsibility is offered.

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iDDOS With The iPhone

Apparently Apple didn’t tell the world about it’s handy iDDOS feature of the iPhone; places like Duke University had to find out about it for themselves.

The built-in 802.11b/g adapters on several iPhones periodically flood sections of the Durham, N.C. school’s pervasive wireless LAN with MAC address requests, temporarily knocking out anywhere from a dozen to 30 wireless access points at a time. Campus network staff are talking with Cisco, the main WLAN provider, and have opened a help desk ticket with Apple. But so far, the precise cause of the problem remains unknown.

That’s because the misbehaving iPhones flood the access points with up to 18,000 address requests per second, nearly 10Mbps of bandwidth, and monopolizing the AP’s airtime.

Stellar. I suppose for added comic effect, you could ‘pronounce’ iDDOS like adios…

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iPhone Development

While much attention has been paid to whether or not Apple will open the iPhone to development I think that a more fundamental question has been missed in the process — why are Steve Jobs and Apple afraid of opening the iPhone to third-party developers? Is it because they have a sense that the underlying OS is not terribly stable? How many times have you heard Jobs use the example ‘…well, when you install other apps the phone might crash’. Is it because there is not really a robust developer framework that includes exception handling underneath? What is the reason for their reticence?

I contrast to Nokia (and other phone manufacturers) approach of allowing, neigh, encouraging third-party development on their Symbian-based smartphones. Granted, Symbian is not perfect but it does provide a rich and relatively stable environment for the development of everything from games to productivity apps on mobile phones. An those are just the ‘native’ apps, there are a large number of Java-based apps available for those devices as well. No word on Java on the iPhone as of yet.

With the Apple WWDC revelation cum stopgap announcement that third-party development will be allowed on the iPhone, albeit thin applications that have their UI on the phone and heavy lifting is done off-phone via (presumably) web service calls of some sort. If truly limited to ‘Web 2.0 standards’ [sic] for iPhone app development, the applications will likely have very limited access to the device itself for integrating with the address book, camera and other built-in functions. To some, Apple’s stance on iPhone development will be taken as validation of thin-client/rich-client/services-based development. To others, it will just seem a cop out.

It will be interesting to see how this evolves and whether it will ultimately provide a satisfactory development and deployment environment for non-Apple applications and services. Of course, the resolution of that question won’t keep Apple from selling truckloads of iPhones on 29 June.

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iTunes Plus — Minus A Lot

Last night I (manually) downloaded iTunes 7.2 aka iTunes Plus as it was not showing up in Software Update. Not much to see, other than the ‘new’ DRM-free music being on offer.

What I did notice was that 90% of the music that I searched for came back as ‘not found’ in the store — including stuff that I had purchased from iTunes in the past. Granted, the majority of the music was not mainstream/pop, but, still, it appears to expose a huge gap in iTunes offerings. Perhaps it was just a search engine malfunction. Time will tell.

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Zooomr, jUploader and Aperture

I just discovered a nifty little trick for uploading pictures to Zooomr if you are using Aperture (or iPhoto). You can drag and drop photos directly from Aperture onto jUploader and click the upload button. jUploader will then upload the full size image from Aperture. Maybe this is obvious to others, but I was pleased to find that I didn’t have to export to jpeg from Aperture first to use jUploader.

One side effect of this for me, is that I will be uploading a lot more of my stuff to Zooomr as it has just become so much easier.

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iTunes Crash (and Recovery)

Friday evening saw the crash of my iTunes library (and me basically spending the weekend trying to recovery from it). I have been running iTunes since, well, there was iTunes (I started with OS X 10.0.0). This meant that I had 5+ years of play counts, ratings, playlists, etc built up that were basically lost in the crash.

I’m not even sure what caused the crash. I was listening to my iTunes library while ripping a new CD I had just purchased. The only out of the ordinary thing was that the Software Update dialog had popped up telling me about the new security update. About five seconds later, I was presented with a ‘iTunes has quit unexpectedly’ message. Then the fun began. I restarted iTunes, only to be told the my iTunes library was damaged and that the file was being renamed with ‘damaged’ appended to it. This seems a rather purposeless thing to do, because I have yet to find a tool that will allow you to recover your damaged library or even analyze it. However, the file it should have made a backup of is the ‘iTunes Music Library.xml’ file. It turns out that you can recover from a library crash if you have an intact copy of the .xml file.

Assuming that you have a good copy of the XML file, you can recover by moving the XML file to another directory, deleting the binary iTunes Library file and starting iTunes. You will notice that iTunes is empty — don’t panic, simply go to file, import and point it at your saved copy of the XML file. All of your play counts, ratings etc will be restored. IF you have a good copy of the XML file.

As luck would have it, my XML file (which was around 29MB), was replaced with a nice fresh one that was around 8K, so basically I was screwed. As I have about 100 GB of music (yes, it’s all legal, trying to find storage for all the CDs is a pain) I had a big task in front of me to recreate playlist and reassign music to the playlists.

You can bet that that the next thing that I did was setup an automatic process to make a copy of the precious iTunes Library XML file and tuck it in several safe places. What a great time to have the time machine feature that will be available in Leopard!

Oh, and Apple, you might consider having iTunes make its own backup copy of the XML file, especially when a crash is involved. Having a copy of the binary library file is useless for recovery, whereas the XML file is vital. Think about it.

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Apple Announces Aperture 1.5

Apple’s big pre-photokina announcement today was the release (later this week) of a new version of their Aperture photo software. There are some significant new features. One of the features I am looking forward to is the addition of a plugin API to allow extensions to Aperture. Several companies have already produced export plugins for 1.5 including Flickr and istockphoto.

I just started dabbling with Aperture about a month ago and love how easy it is to get things organized and sorted out when dealing with a virtual pile of files. I really appreciate the fact that unlike iPhoto it does keep full copies of files around whenever you make a simple change to an image. In fact, with the release of 1.5, I can see moving to Aperture as my primary photo organization software.

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Apple Newton Still Better Than Windoze (UMPC) Devices

Considering my previous rants posts regarding the Newton, this article on cnet UK is all the more vindicating. The gist of the article is that a new ‘innovative’ MS-based Samsung portable computer can’t compare to the capabilities of a ten year old Newton. In fact, the article goes on to point out numerous times how the Samsung appears to be a very close copy of the Newton on several features.

I can only imagine the hotness that was the Newton tuned up with a high res color screen, built in Wi-Fi, and all the other modern conveniences in my hand today.

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What makes a good widget?

I had a look at a few new dashboard widgets this weekend and the experience led me to the question of ‘what makes a good widget?’

I’ll start with answering the flip side of that question, what makes a bad widget.

Bad widgets are really sort of banner ads in disguise; their purpose is not to provide you any useful information. Rather they are really just tar-pits that reward any click on them with a trip to either some flash-advert-incrusted web site (to drive their hit count) or to some site offering you a ‘premium service’ for a fee. The most egregious do both.

Good widgets on the other hand are well thought out single (mostly) taskers that provide you with a good deal of information in a concise manner. I would put the weather, local traffic, package tracker, and flight tracker widgets (among others) in this category. With each of these, they either tell you what you want to know at a quick glance, or after a simple interaction (say, typing in a tracking number for a package).

It seems to me that the same ‘chunks of functionality’ that would make good widgets would also make good porlets (and vice versa). In both cases the developer needs to be focused on providing some real utility in a concise display and not simply creating another loathsome form of banner ad.

I should note that good widgets aren’t confined to Apple’s Dashboard and Java Portlets. The same concept could be implemented in Yahoo Widgets, Netvibes or even WordPress widgets (which I use extensively on this site). Alas, each of these has a different means of implementing so it is a bit of work to make your ‘chunk of functionality’ available on more than one.

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Shake It Up, iPod

Here is a random thought that I had driving into work the other day: what if Apple were to combine the sudden motion sensor technology that they have in the MacBook with the iPod? Then, on the iPod, if you wanted to ‘shuffle’ songs you could simply shake your iPod in a certain way, an viola!, tunes are shuffled. This could even be used to advance or replay a song.

Obviously this would need to have some sort of a button or some other ‘release’ that would allow this to work. Otherwise, the simple act of walking around or jogging would be forever activating this feature.

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Mac Virus or Clueless Users (and Reporters)?

I saw this posting on CNN about Viruses Catch up to the Mac and had to respond to the faulty, sensationalist claims.

First off, there is a difference between a virus and a trojan horse. It sounds like what this guy (seemingly, knowingly, intentionally) ran was more a trojan. I have my doubts that just by clicking on some links that this ‘virus’ was able to execute. I also have my doubts that he was looking for ‘pictures of an unreleased update to his computer’s operating system’ (pr0n, perhaps?).

And have no doubt, it is an epidemic, having effected the guy in the story and “at least one other person“. This is great too: “It just shows people that no matter what kind of computer you use you are still open to some level of attack” — particularly if you do foolish things, like run scripts and programs of which you have no idea of the origin.

Let’s also be happy for self-congratulatory ‘researchers’ (like the one quoted in the article) who make generally true statements that could be applied to any software with no specifics required: “… malicious web sites can exploit the holes without a user’s knowledge, potentially allowing a criminal to execute code remotely and gain access to passwords and other sensitive information”. Has there been a single documented case where this has happened on a Mac OS X system? It is important to note how he is careful not say that this has happen with a Mac.

Yes, theoretically it is possible — how about some facts? Ah, yes, there is this a bit further in the article: “Apple plans to patch the holes … and there have been no reports of them being exploited … [an Apple spokesperson] disagreed that the vulnerabilities make it possible for a criminal to run code on a target machine.” You wont find the previous excoriating quotes in or near the headline.

Near the end of the article there is a four bullet list of security issues that have been identified on the Mac. Great. In any sufficiently complicated software (like an operating system), I would expect some bugs. Perhaps even some that truly are security vulnerabilities. Notably, however, there is no accounting of how the number of Mac vulnerabilities compares to Windows (just to get a relative sense of the problem they are sensationalizing discussing).

But the grand prize for misleading statements goes to the claim that “With new Macs running the same processor that powers Windows-based machines, far more people will know how to exploit weaknesses in Apple machines than in the past…” Huh? The vulnerabilities in Windows can’t be blamed on Intel-based processors, it can be blamed on a poorly designed, bloated excuse for an operating system (Windows) that has had several unsuccessful attempts to layer on security well after the fact. I would guess that a very, very large number of security vulnerabilities in Windows would be stopped cold by OS X when run as a non-root user.

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Happy 5th Mac OS X!

Yesterday, March 24th, marked the fifth anniversary of the release of the new Macintosh operating system from Apple: OS X. Shortly after the release of OS X 10.0.0, I bought my first Mac — something that I thought would never do, but found it an easy transition on for my home computing needs.

I have never been a big fan of Microsoft’s poorly written, buggy, generally awful software. I ‘celebrated’ the release of Windows 98 by removing all MS products from my home computers and replacing it with Linux. I found Linux and the applications available on it to be more that adequate for my needs.

One catalyst for my interest in Apple was that just before the release of OS X, I bought my first miniDV camcorder which had a built in firewire connection. This made me start thinking about doing more video editing and iMovie sounded like a good entry point. Also, I liked the idea of having a commercial OS with the power and stability of BSD/Mach under the covers with some decent eyecandy of a user interface. OS X had plenty to offer here. So in April of 2001, I took the plunge and bought a Graphite iMac and a shiny new copy of OS X 10.0.0.

The early days with the new system where interesting, just trying to figure out where things were configured or even located. I also found myself many times just saying ‘screw it’ and dropping down to the command line to get some work done instead of clickity-clicking around in the GUI. Software update was awesome and I was very pleased at the steady stream of new applications, bug fixes and updates that came my way.

I also remember all of the whining when Apple ‘dared’ to charge for an OS upgrade (*gasp*). My though was, I’ve gotten a free ride for this long, why not drop the $79(?) dollars for an update? I was a little less enthusiastic when the free ‘iTools’ where re-swizzled into the for-fee .mac .

iTunes made it too easy to solve a long standing problem I had with music. I had tons of CDs, but no good way to locate and listen to discs when I wanted to. The solution at the time, a multi-disc boom box was just not cutting it as far as variety and accessability were concerned. iTunes made it very easy to rip my CDs and play.

When the first iPod came out, I thought, ‘great, now I can have something to listen to at work’ and bought the first of three iPods (a 1st, 2nd, and 4th generation). With the iPod I was ‘buying up’ less for features but more for iPod disc space to carry around my ever growing iTunes-based music collection. I also thought that the 3rd generation iPod was a clunker user interface-wise (it was the only one with the separate menu buttons). I was so tempted to buy one of the ‘I had an iPod before you even knew what one was’ t-shirts I saw last year, but resisted the temptation.

With the purchase of a slimserver first, then several Roku units and an Apple Airport Express (as well as Tivo Desktop allowing for the playing of iTunes music through the TV) it became even easier to play iTunes music wherever in the house it was desired.

I was pretty vocal about singing the praises of my newfound Mac experience at work and slowly more and more co-workers were dumping their PCs for iMacs and Powerbooks. While my first iPod was met with questions like ‘why would you need something like that to listen to music on?’ — now iPods are everywhere in cubicle land. One of my neighbors even bought a Mac last autumn because they got so frustrated with trying to edit and organize pictures on their Dell desktop. I showed her iPhoto, iMovie and iDVD and some of the work that I had done in those apps and she had a new iBook within a week!

That was a bit of rambling Apple nostalgia, but it felt good.

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802.11a Now Supported by Apple

Hidden in the announcements from Apple regarding new Intel-based Macs is the detail that they are now supporting the 802.11a wireless networking standard. Here are some of the details from TidBits:

802.11a was declared dead by Steve Jobs back in Jan. 2003 when he introduced AirPort Extreme, and it seemed rather dead at the time. The advantage of 802.11a is that it has no backwards compatible mode with the older, slower 802.11b standard.

802.11b and g work in the 2.4 GHz band, and 802.11b runs at a maximum of 11 Mbps of throughput, or a net of about 5 Mbps. 802.11g has a maximum 54 Mbps, or a net of about 20 to 30 Mbps depending on add-ons and other factors.

The reason that the lack of compatibility with 802.11b is an advantage is that a network that sports both b and g adapters has worse performance than a g-only or any 802.11a network. The older “b” devices bring down the whole network, reducing the amount of shared airtime available for faster transmission.

802.11a has emerged in corporations and universities as a preferred tool for deploying voice over IP (VoIP) whether for campus calling or Internet telephony (VoIP to a gateway out to the public switched telephone network).

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