A whole mess of updates
By Stephen WITHERS
It seems like I can't turn around without a fresh item appearing in Software Update or some other update mechanism.
I finally got round to updating to iTunes 10.2 at the same time as I installed the latest Java update, and then iTunes 10.2.1 popped up. And today there's Safari 5.0.4.
And didn't Adobe put out several patches for items including Flash quite recently?
Bodega tells me I have 18 applications installed that need updating. Some of these are paid software, so rather than pressing ahead blindly I'll need to check carefully that the updated versions are free.
Talking of paid upgrades, I received a notification from Roxio of the new version of Toast, but there was no mention of an upgrade price. I expect there is one, but as I only purchased Toast a couple of months ago I'm not particularly inclined to put my hand in my pocket again.
Cnet's TechTracker application says 51 updates are available for my computer, but it won't tell me what they are - the results page just insists I need to install the TechTracker application, even though that's what is taking me to the page. Oh well...
At least the Mac App Store tells me all my apps are up to date. And I don't have an iPhone or iPad to update with the new version of iOS.
But it does worry me slightly that the proportion of my time that's spent on managing my Mac is creeping upward.
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More on Office 2011
By Stephen WITHERS
A mishmash of experiences and suggestions.
If you want to set up Outlook 2011 to work with a Gmail account, I recommend How To Wrangle Outlook 2011 To Work With Gmail. I reckon it saved me a lot of time and headscratching.
And if you then want to move old emails stored on your computer into Gmail folders, that's just a drag-and-drop operation from the existing folder to the appropriate folder (label) in your Gmail account. My experience is that you don't want to move too many messages at a time (about a few hundred seems OK), partly because of the amount of time it takes but also because of the risk of things going wrong. So consider using categories to keep track of what's been copied from a particular folder and what hasn't.
A related problem is that the first several times I created a new folder in my Gmail account from Outlook, everything went well. But now every time I try to do that, the result is "An unknown error has occurred in Outlook. The IMAP folder could not be created." So I have to create the folder from within the Gmail web interface. Not a huge problem, but more effort than should be necessary.
(If you've found a good way of reducing the number of messages that Gmail incorrectly categorises as spam, please pass on the method.)
The main thing that precipitated my move from Office 2008 to 2011 was the way Entourage had taken to crashing on me. Sadly, Outlook is far from 100% reliable. Here's hoping that Microsoft will address stability issues sooner rather than later. And there's a good number of users hanging out for calendar synchronisation too.
Did you know about the advanced typography features in Word 2011? Check out Bring Your Words to Life with Advanced Typography from Microsoft's Office for Mac team. There's some cool stuff to be put to work, especially if you like ligatures and variant letter forms.
Something I'd overlooked until today in Word until today is File>Share>Email (as HTML) and >Email (as Attachment). Although I don't really approve of HTML email, I can see why you might want to use Word to create the text rather than Outlook.
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New MacBook Pro within a month?
By Stephen WITHERS
It's been a while since Apple last updated the MacBook Pro, but the word is that the wait is almost over.
The tip is for a March 1 introduction of models featuring Intel's Sandy Bridge chipset. While that chipset received a generally warm welcome, the news that a defect could cause SATA performance degradation took away some of the gloss.
Since the problem affects four out of the six SATA ports, it's no big deal for the MacBook Pro which only makes provision for two SATA drives, though a minor design change may have been necessary to use ports 1 and 6 instead of 1 and 2.
At this stage, other information about the new MacBook Pro is very thin on the ground and seems to be little more than speculation, even though the forthcoming notebooks are already in production according to Apple Insider.
Some people are tipping a thinner and lighter design, but then thicker and heavier are hardly selling points. There's also a suggestion that the larger variant will include an AMD graphics chip, while the smaller will rely on the integrated graphics controller.
Note that 'integrated graphics' should no longer attract derision. According to my even more technically inclined colleagues, Sandy Bridge integrated graphics delivers much better performance than its predecessors, and even surpasses some discrete GPUs while consuming less power.
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'Appy days at the Mac App Store - but is the future as bright?
By Stephen WITHERS
The Mac App Store seemed to get off to a good start last month, if the habits of people I know are at all representative. Many of then have experimented with free applications, several have bought a paid app or two, and a few spent much more than they originally intended. Still, it was a good way of using up iTunes gift cards received at Christmas, or to take advantage on recent specials on gift cards at Target and Dick Smith.
Things are going so well that according to one report, Apple intends to stop selling boxed software in its retail (and presumably online) stores.
It makes sense for some items, but the sheer size of some applications is a barrier. The Mac App Store version of Garageband is a 182MB download - but the version on my iMac includes 2.6GB of instruments and other files, located in /Library/Application Support/Garageband. (If you've bought the program from the Store, please post a comment saying how big the Instrument Library etc are.)
This, I suspect, is the real reason for the unbundling of the iLife and iWork applications in the Store: people will download software up to CD size, but they're not happy with the idea of downloading a DVD's worth. This is especially true for those who for whatever reason need to rely on mobile broadband with its relatively small quotas and high prices.
Apart from download size, another issue is that Apple applies strict technical rules to software that's offered through the Store, so programs that need to go outside those rules won't be sold there. One example is that EyeTV needs to install device drivers, but Store applications "cannot install code or resources in shared locations." Another is that PrintMaster 2011 uses Java, but "Apps that use deprecated or optionally installed technologies (e.g., Java, Rosetta) will be rejected."
There are also some commercial issues - especially regarding the sale of add-in content, mandatory licensing for multiple computers, the "no demos" rule, restrictions on what is 'acceptable', losing direct contact with customers, and problems around transitioning existing customers to the Store versions of applications - that will put off some developers.
So even if boxed software does disappear from the shelves of Apple Stores around the world, there's going to be a place for channels other than the Mac App Store for some time to come.
Unless the prophets of doom are correct.
One school of thought holds that - despite statements by the company to the contrary - Apple does want the Mac App Store to be the sole source of Mac software, and that this will be enforced by Mac OS X 10.7 refusing to run any code that isn't digitally signed by Apple.
Frankly, I can't see that happening. (Feel free to come back and gloat if I'm proved wrong.) Can you imagine Microsoft and Adobe agreeing to let someone else sign their applications? I can't. Is Apple really at the stage where it can tell them to take a hike?
And an awful lot of people run open source applications on their Macs. Firefox, Cyberduck and VirtualBox are just three examples that come to mind. Yet at least some of the major open source licences seem to be incompatible with the Mac App Store licence.
It's one thing creating a new platform (iOS) and effectively saying "here are our rules, and if you don't like them, don't buy our devices or develop for them." It's quite another to try to impose such a big change on an existing customer and developer base. I just don't buy it.
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Dolly Drive brings new angle on cloud backup
By Stephen WITHERS
Here's an interesting idea: Dolly Drive combines Time Machine's ease of use with the benefits of remote backup.
It's one of those 'obvious now someone's thought of it' things. Why should you need to run extra software on your Mac for cloud backup when Time Machine is an easy to use and standard part of Mac OS X.
Dolly Drive is a cloud storage service designed specifically to work with Time Machine. Sone set up for Dolly Drive, Time Machines copies files to the cloud Instead of an external hard drive. (Why Dolly? There's a clue in the fact that the company's mascot is a sheep.)
You'll still want a local hard disk backup (probably a clone), though. That way, when disaster strikes you'll be able to restore from that, and then use Time Machine to recover any new files and changes made after the clone. That'll be much quicker, and easier on your Internet quota.
Talking of quotas, one of the problems with Dolly Drive from an Australian perspective is that it's not unusual for ISPs to meter uploads as well as downloads. So a backup system that handles changes made to files instead of uploading new versions in their entirety are going to be cheaper to run.
Another problem is the time it takes to make the initial backup, and the amount of data that's involved. Unless you're on one of the recently introduced terabyte plans, this is likely to be a real issue. One workaround would be to initially exclude all but your most important data, and once that's completely backed up, drop the exclusion of the next most important, and so on.
But unless you're maintaining a local backup regime outside of Time Machine, it could easily be several days before all your files are protected. (Dolly is talking about a service that would let you clone your drive to an external unit and send that to the company as a starting point. How practical that is for overseas customers remains to be seen.)
If you're concerned about security, Dolly says your username and password are encrypted, data transmission uses a secure tunnel, and that the company's technicians are unable to access your data without your permission, "And when access is granted, we cannot just click on the data and see it – the process is multi-leveled and complex."
Prices start at $US5 per month for 50GB of storage, but Dolly is pushing the 250GB plan at $US10 per month. With all plans, you get an extra 5GB for each month that you subscribe.
Can you see Apple adding a similar capability to MobileMe in the future? Especially as the MobileMe Backup program seems to be on its last legs. It would be particularly useful if Apple modified Time Machine so it could back up to a local disk and to your iDisk. That would also provide an opportunity to upload only the differences between one version of a file and its successor, as both are available locally to allow a comparison.
The trick would be to make it simple enough for everyone while providing enough flexibility for more sophisticated users to manage the process to meet their needs. For example, you might want to automatically defer backups of all but the most important files while you're using a 3G dongle, and you might want to be a good citizen and avoid any backup traffic when you're using Wi-Fi hotspots other than those in your home or office.
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