Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lion Has Arrived!

First looks at the much anticipated big cat are popping up all over the place. I don’t think I have ever seen this much excitement surrounding a new OS release but this one has a lot to be excited about. While Apple called the event Back To The Mac and said they wanted to take what they learned from iOS and update Mac OS X in reality they did a whole lot more. Many people who had yet to touch the new OS complained about the very features they had yet to touch. I am here to tell you today the new OS feels much more powerful than all of its predecessors. It even seems to perform faster. I am feeling as though I am getting more work done in a day.

Let’s start with the Major Features that have been covered and my first impressions.

Full Screen Mode

Icon_Fullscreen_07.08.11-2011-07-31-19-00.pngFull screen mode is a bit of mixed bag. It does look great on my 17” Mac Book Pro and I am using it heavily there. However once I move to my 27” iMac Desktop with a second 24” screen attached I don’t use it anymore. The second screen is just covered in linen and is pretty useless. The screen is so large that full screen just doesn’t feel useful. If you get an app in full screen mode and want back out just go to the top right side of the screen and the menu bar will reappear and give you a button to click to return to windowed mode and you will be returned to your windowed desktop.

LaunchPad
Icon_LaunchPad_07.08.11-2011-07-31-19-00.pngLaunchPad I don’t currently hold out much hope for. I have spent hours setting it up and I just don’t seem to really use it yet. Normally when I launch apps I use the command and space keys and type the name of the program in spotlight. I can see when it would be useful at some point. When you have organized everything and you know you have a video app but just can’t remember the name of it, LaunchPad could be useful. It just takes a lot of time to get it organized and I finding a lot of programs like un-installers that are just hanging out there that should be hidden in a folder on the last page.

Mission Control
Icon_Mission_Control_07.11.11-2011-07-31-19-00.pngThe rebirth of Spaces and Exposé into Mission Control was a great move by Apple. It still has all the power that the power users have come to know and love with a new simplicity that will make it useful even to the novice user. I have heard some complaints in the first couple of days that exposé features were lost. They really weren’t you just need to turn on the gesture in your trackpad settings. With a four finger swipe up your are in Mission Control and a four finger swipe down you are in Exposé. Now the documents below the line in Exposé are not just items minimized in the dock but recently opened documents as well to give you fast access to your documents.

Spotlight

ScreenShot2011-07-31at10.13.28AM-2011-07-31-19-00.pngSpotlight has been around for a while and not particularly smart but had limited use. Spotlight has gotten some nice improvements with this update like a preview feature that displays a thumbnail of a document so you can preview it before you open the document. The search seems a little more refined now and more useful than it has been in the past. Search the Web and search Wikipedia have now been added to Spotlight. I still use it the same way I did before as an app launcher but it is more useful now than it was before. Like in the Snow Leopard version of Spotlight you can still do quick math problems if you just need to solve an equation quickly by typing it right into the search.

Show All Files
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Breaks up files by type and provides a CoverFlow view of document thumbnails to allow you to quickly flip through your most recently accessed documents. By default the left most document is what you most recently accessed. It is broken out into Spreadsheets, Developer and Documents. Any of these sections can be clicked to chosen to show all documents of that type if you are looking for something in particular. Also with the search bar on top you can search through all your files for any search term and it will automatically add extra categories like chats and emails. This coupled with Spotlight may make it much easier to find documents in the future. I am still getting used to getting to my files through Show All Files instead of opening Finder and digging through the file system. It will just take a little time to get used to the change.
Finder Enhancements

Preview Signature
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This has to be one of my favorite new features. Frequently I have to sign PDF documents and now Preview can create a store your digital signature. To setup your signature open Preview and click on the Annotate button.ScreenShot2011-07-31at10.58.44AM-2011-07-31-19-00.png Next click on the Signature button ScreenShot2011-07-31at10.58.51AM-2011-07-31-19-00.png and sign your name to a white piece of paper. Finally hold the paper up to the camera with your signature lined up with the blue line. Preview will capture your signature and save it. Then in the future you can click on your signature and add it to any document.

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I can’t speak to the security of this yet. As long as I am logged in to my account I can add a signature to any document. The Signatures Window does show a padlock next to the signature indicating their may be some sort of security on the signature but I don’t know much about it at the time of this writing. It is something I will continue to dig into and report on at a later date. It is a great feature though and it is making my work flow much faster when signing documents.

iChat
ScreenShot2011-07-31at11.26.35AM-2011-07-31-19-00.pngFor the first time in years I haven’t felt the need to have Chax installed on my Mac. First the iChat Buddies is now all in one window making people I want to talk to easier to find and grouped by Co-Workers, Friends, Family, etc. Once I open a chat with two people I am now presented with a single chat window showing both peoples names and allowing me to click back and forth between users. If a message comes in from a person in the background a preview of the chat appears under their name until I click on them to return to the chat. The iChat changes were subtle and it is still missing the ability to get out a screen sharing and back to a video chat without ending the call. If anyone from Apple reads this please fix that it is really annoying.

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The last odd bit with Lion is the default inclusion of FaceTime. It is in no way connected to iChat and it by default installed on your Mac. So for those of us early adopters that paid $.99 for the App when it went to version 1.0 we just made a small donation to the cause for Apple because it is free now. It runs in the back ground and if someone calls a FaceTime registered email address or iPhone number it will ring through to all of your computers and devices with FaceTime installed. It is useful but FaceTime doesn’t support screen sharing, special effects, or text chatting. So both products feel a little odd and incomplete.

I would like to see one chat product that integrates everything for communications and allows me to share my screen or the user to share their screen. One final oddity I noted about FaceTime is if you move between desktops in Mission Control the video call pauses. Audio conversation continues uninterrupted but the other side becomes a static grey picture with a giant pause in the middle of the screen indicating to the other person they may be on hold but audio continues both ways. If you mute yourself in FaceTime the video continues again greyed out with a big mute in the center of the screen but full motion video is still happening in the background.

Changing Your Password

ScreenShot2011-07-31at4.00.15PM-2011-07-31-19-00.pngWho hasn’t lost or forgotten a password from time to time? Well, with this new feature connecting your User Account to your iTunes account gives you a way to reset your User Login password with your iTunes ID. This will not reset your Keychain password so if you store passwords in your keychain they will be lost when you delete the keychain you no longer have access to anymore. However this is an easier process than getting out the boot disk (if your Mac has a DVD drive) rebooting from the disk and resetting the password.

iOS style auto correction

For someone who does a lot of writing and sometimes makes mistakes this is a great feature. If you misspell or the prediction pops up and your accept the correction the word is briefly underlined in blue. A person can start typing a word and use space to complete it or escape to cancel the word. For the words that OS X doesn’t pick up or common misspellings that are not picked up from iOS can be picked up by Text Expander from Smile Software.

Wifi-Diagnostics

Ok this one is for geeks and support people and it is pretty buried in the Operating System and it isn’t clear other than visiting the CoreServices System Folder I am not sure how to open this application yet. For those daring souls that like to dig into the OS and play with this new feature it is located under /Library/System/Core Services/Wi-Fi Diagnostics. A user can monitor the performance of the computers on the wi-fi network, Record Events, perform a raw packet capture, or turn on debugging information. I think this has been included but either isn’t ready for primetime yet or is automatically launched when a particular problem occurs that I haven’t encountered yet.

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Programs resuming from their last state

This can be a mixed bag for some users. You don’t want to be visiting a client and open Keynote to another clients presentation. So the best thing a user can do is remember to close files when you are done with them to prevent potentially embarrassing situations from arising. That being said I do like the feature in general. As we all know sometimes Safari starts using up a lot of memory or running slow and needs to be restarted. If you leave you tabs open but close Safari when you reopen it the tabs will all reload just the way it was and take up less memory and improved performance. So no need to go back and reopen the dozen tabs I had open again.

Last week while being out and about I was using my computer and put it to sleep. When I opened it up again I was presented with my login and password screen. Upon entering my credentials all of my apps reopened and resumed where they were when I put the computer to sleep and informed me the Mac had experienced a crash and would like to send diagnostic information to Apple. Other than having to login and getting this dialog box I had not even noticed that the computer had an issue and I was able to resume working right where I left off quickly.

Versions
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To date most of the apps I spend my greatest about of time in do not support Versions so I haven’t had much time to work with it yet. While Versions doesn’t totally rely on Time Machine it does seem to integrate with it to display data from documents older than the two weeks defaulted before the document locks. As more applications start to utilize versions I think this will become a huge feature in the future.

Visual Tweaks

Finder got a few nice visual tweaks like hiding the scroll bars when they are not in use. This is great for freeing up more space and if you want to see the scroll bar for a moment to get a feeling for where you are in a document just touch two fingers to the trackpad and move slightly to see where you are. Also with the loss of scroll bars the window moves resize button has gone away at the bottom of the screen. Now users can just grab any edge to resize a window and by holding the option key can resize opposite sides of a window or by grabbing the corner of the window the entire window.

Window graphics look more refined and the drop shadows around windows seem a little longer giving the desktop more of a sense of depth. It just makes the Windows environment feel a little more polished. Grabbing multiple files now adds a badge to show a user how many files they have grabbed so they know they got the right number of files. Finally when moving a file from one location to another the icon morphs into the shape of the view on the screen. Dragging from icon to list causes the icon to morph when it is over the destination window. It is not particularly useful but does make the OS feel a little more thought out and polished.

New Voices

With Lion users now get additional choices in natural sounding voices. These voices it is speculated came from a deal between Apple and Nuance Technologies. The voices now include many foreign languages and a variety of accents. To access these open the System Preferences, click speech, click text to speech, and under the voice choose customize. These additional voices are downloaded from the Internet and installed as a user requests them.

AirDrop

Icon_AirDrop_07.08.11-2011-07-31-19-00.pngAirDrop there isn’t too much to say about it, it just works. It requires zero configuration and it is very secure. The only downside is you have to be on late 2008 or newer Mac hardware that takes advantage of Wi-Fi Cards that can support an Ad-Hoc and Infrastructure network at the same time. AirDrop is off until the user clicks on it in Finder then it locates other people with AirDrop on in the immediate area. They are represented by an icon with their login picture. If a user wishes to send a file just drag and drop it to the recipients picture and it asks the user to confirm they wish to send the file. Then on the recipients computer a dialog appears telling the user the sender wishes to send you a file do you wish to accept the file. If the recipient clicks yes then the file is transferred over an encrypted connection. The process couldn’t be any simpler.

So all in all Lion is a pretty major upgrade for users despite the $29.00 price tag. As long as you don’t have PowerPC apps you still need there is no reason not to upgrade to the latest version. It doesn’t feel any faster than Snow Leopard but it does give the end user quiet a few new features and ways to help save their work and alter their work flow to make them more efficient. It is a nice upgrade and fun to use.

This is also the first major OS release to be available by download only and there was a lot of hoopla over it when this was announced. My computers took about 20 minutes each to download the data and Apple stores have been letting people who have slow Internet drop in and use theirs. It was announced last week that a USB drive will be made available in August with the installer for $69.00 US for the bandwidth impaired. New Macbook Airs and MacMini’s come with a method to re-download and install Lion from the Firmware if a blank drive is installed in the machine and eventually this feature will make it across the complete line.

The future has arrived our computers have gotten smarter, easier to use, and our OS’s will be downloaded.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Getting Ready for Lion

Ok so we are now counting down the days until Lion gets released. I am guessing at this point we have less than a week to go. So today I am going to talk about a few things you can do to get your machine ready for Lion to be let out of its cage! First thing I would recommend is to make sure all of your software is as up to date as possible. If you haven’t installed Snow Leopard yet that is the first thing you need to do. While many Apple Stores seem to be running out of Snow Leopard disks it is still available through the online Apple Store and through Amazon.com.

If you are already on Snow Leopard make sure you are updated to the latest and greatest version 10.6.8 by opening System Preferences go to Software Update and click on Check for Updates. Make sure you get all software patches that are available. Next open the App Store App in your System Dock or in the Apple Menu at the top left of your screen and click on updates. Make sure all updates that are available are installed. The next step in my preparation for Lion was to install a program called Bodega from Fresh Code. Bodega is an App Store similar to the Mac App Store but is not run by Apple. Bodega has a nice feature that will scan through all of the installed apps on your computer and tell you if you have updates. I have not been able to use the built in updater to update some apps but with this list I can launch each app and check for updates and install or visit the web site and download the latest version of the app. You can also buy apps directly from Bodega.

With all of your apps up to date or if you choose remove apps you don’t use or don’t like anymore from your computer to save space and make it easier to find apps in the future. Remember with Lion we now have LanuchPad and every app in your Applications folder is going to be showing up there. So feel free to get rid of any apps that you don’t find useful anymore by uninstalling them or dragging them to the trash. This would be a good time to use a program like AppZapper, AppDelete, or AppCleaner to get rid of old programs that you don’t use or don’t wish to update.

AppDelete has posted on their web site they are Lion ready.

Next on the list let’s do a little cleanup. Launch Onyx from Titanium Software. Verify the S.M.A.R.T. Status of your hard drive, Check the Structure of your volume, and scan your Preference files to make sure none are corrupted.
Screenshot2011-07-17at1.31.43PM-2011-07-17-10-25.png

Next Check your Permissions, run all maintenance scripts, and rebuild the LaunchServices, dyld’s shared cache, Spotlight Index, Mail Envelop Index, and locate database.
Screenshot2011-07-17at1.33.20PM-2011-07-17-10-25.png

Next clean and delete all System, User, Internet, Font, Log, and Misc. caches. You will need to click on each tab and choose execute to run each one in turn.

Screenshot2011-07-17at1.33.31PM-2011-07-17-10-25.png

Next check your System Preferences / User Accounts / Login items and remove anything you no longer use or want in your auto startup.

Finally open System Profiler by going to the Apple Menu Screenshot2011-07-17at1.37.15PM-2011-07-17-10-25.png in the top left corner of your screen and choose About this Mac and click More Info...
Screenshot2011-07-17at1.37.59PM-2011-07-17-10-25.png

Now in Profiler under Software click Applications and this will list all software installed on your computer. If you adjust the columns so you can see the Kind column and reorder the column by clicking on it you can quickly scroll through and see what types of apps you have installed. If you encounter any that are PowerPC they will not work in Lion. When you run your Lion install any PowerPC apps or apps that are not supported in Lion will be moved to a new folder that indicates the applications are not compatible. By clicking on the App the Location will be revealed in the lower pane so you can find and remove the incompatible app. If you don’t find them all it is ok Lion will find them for you during install time.

Screenshot2011-07-17at1.39.08PM-2011-07-17-10-25.png

This would also be a good opportunity to check your apps and find out which ones are 64 bit and start moving your apps to 64 bit if possible. The popular VLC Player for example has a PowerPC version for older Macs, they also have a 32bit version and 64bit version for the newer systems. If you are running Snow Leopard or Lion in a week upgrading to the 64 bit version is worth while. It will save headaches down the road when it comes time to upgrade again and you might get a slight performance gain from apps and can more fully utilize RAM in your computer as more Macs start coming with more than 4 Gigabytes of RAM. Apple has done a good job of making the 32bit and 64bit applications very transparent to users. However if you are going to run the 64bit kernel in the OS all drivers must be 64bit. That has been largely handled by Apple but if you have any third party hardware check to make sure you have or can install a 64bit driver to keep things consistent. With Snow Leopard 10.6.4 and the 2011 Macs Apple started by default shipping computer with 64bit kernel mode turned on.

We are closing in on the end of our Lion preparation just a couple more steps to go. Next I would check and make sure you have at least 8-10 Gigabytes of free hard drive space on your computer. If you don’t then you will need to remove some old data or install a larger hard drive. Lion will be about 4 gigabytes to download and then it will need space to work with for the installation. So make sure you have plenty of free drive space. Once you have done that the last step I would recommend is defragging your hard drive if you are using a mechanical drive. SSD users of course can skip this step. If you have a mechanical hard drive then I would recommend Drive Genius 3, TechTool Pro 5, or iDefrag as options to defragment your hard drive. This step could take several hours depending on how frequently you defragment your hard drive.

For those of you that purchased a Mac after June 6th 2011 remember you can get a free upgrade to Lion through Apple. Just visit http://www.apple.com/macosx/uptodate/ for details.

Once you are done with these steps sit back, relax and wait for Lion! Remember on install day it will probably take some time to download the Lion installer depending on bandwidth and how many people start downloading Lion right away. Good luck and happy upgrading. If you have questions, comments, or just need help with preparing for Lion feel free to leave a comment in this thread or email me at paultscott@gmail.com. I will be happy to answer as many questions as I can.

Finally don’t forget to check out our weekly podcast myself and Dr. PC Jeff Bodenstein will be talking about Lion and other tech news and answering users questions. You can find our show in iTunes or at reboundradio.com. The show is called TechBits come check us out and leave us feedback.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

OCZ Vertex 2 Upgrade

I have been testing a couple of different hard drives over the last month looking for better performance in my Macbook Pro. First I upgraded from a Seagate Momentus 7200 RPM to a Seagate Momentus XT 7200 RPM hybrid drive. The Hybrid is a 500GB mechanical hard disk with 4GB of NAND flash on board to help accelerate frequently used files. Last but certainly not least I tried an OCZ Vertex 2 SSD drive. A 250GB hard drive and all ll I can say is WOW this is an amazing upgrade. It is a little hefty price wise but makes a phenomenal performance difference on a computer.

First I ran the Xbench program to performance test the same machine with several different hard drives. My first baseline test was using the Seagate standard mechanical 7200RPM hard drive. My computer overall score was 132.88 and when I first installed the new drive performance dropped slightly to 130.00. After a week of running the hybrid it stored slightly higher at 133.13. I was never able to tell a difference in performance in the real world between the hybrid and regular mechanical drive.



























Drive Type
Xbench Score
Non-Hybrid
132.88
Hybrid Day 1
130.00
Haybrid One week
133.13
OCZ
229.18
OCZ with TRIM
226.35

Then came installing the OCZ Vertex 2. This drive is phenomenal. It is a little smaller than the other drives in the test only storing 250GB of data. However the computer boots faster, login is faster, and programs launch faster it makes my computer feel like a whole new machine. Now I will say the price point for this upgrade is kind of high. The Vertex 2 weighs in at $379 for the 240 GB model. Anything smaller isn’t particularly useful with our large media files and constant growing collections of MP3’s and movies.

To balance my need for storage and with the need for speed I went with a dual drive configuration in my laptop. I got an Optibay to put the 500 GB mechanical drive in and put the SSD in the primary bay. The optical drive was removed and put in an external enclosure with a USB interface. Frankly I almost never use the DVD drive anymore so swapping it out for some extra storage was an easy decision. Now my laptop is rocking 750GB of storage. I keep the Music, Pictures, and Movies on the larger mechanical drive and the OS, documents, and all the files I need fast access to on the SSD drive giving me the best of both worlds.

The prices are still high and capacities are still limited to 480GB but the prices are falling rapidly and with some management of media SSD’s are ready for the mass market. Other World Computing a couple of weeks ago announced their Electra 6G line of SSD drives. These are the first SATA III drives with 500MB per second transfer speeds and for the first time a 500 GB drive under $1000.00.

Pricing is still a little high but if you need the speed and have it in the budget it is a worth while upgrade. I predict in the next year prices will drop to point where SSD drives become a very reasonable must have upgrade. They certainly make a massive performance difference on any computer. There may be additional benefits when OS X Lion ships later this month since the OS is being optimized for SSD drives.