The Mac App Store makes shopping for software fun. Here are my picks for the top 5 free apps for the Mac.
Caffeine: Fading the screen to save power is a good idea, but sometimes you don’t want that to happen. Caffeine keeps your screen awake with a single click.
Text Wrangler: A darn good text editor from the makers of BBedit. I like it almost as much as UltraEdit.
Ringer: Take any song in iTunes and make it a ring tone. It uses a waveform view that makes it easy to pick out the right snippet. Options allow fade-in and fade-out. At the end, it drops the results right back into iTunes to be transferred to your phone.
Stuffit Expander: An easy to use toolbox for dealing with all of the file compression and archiving formats.
MiroVideoConverter: It converts video formats. It’s a lot easier to use than ffmpeg and gets pretty good results.
I’m always looking for things that make my computer easier to use. What apps do you recommend? What’s on your list?
*The apps were free when I downloaded them. They may no longer be so.
Dropbox is cloud storage made easy. Dropbox synchronizes a folder on your computer with a secure site on the Internet. Any file you put there is immediately copied off site, safely away from your computer. That’s good, but it gets better. If you join any of your other computers to your Dropbox account, that folder is then synchronized to that computer, too. The computers can run Mac OS/X, Windows, and Linux. Files move back and forth effortlessly. It just works.
There are mobile apps, too, so you can access files from your phone. As you travel, snapping pictures, you can use Dropbox to transfer them to your computer — they’ll be home before you are. If you’re not at your computer, you can still access your files via any web browser.
Dropbox also enables sharing. You can pick one or more folders and make them public, or share them with one or more individuals. That means you don’t have to mail files back and forth. The latest copy is always on your computer, kept up to date by Dropbox. This is a great tool when you’re working in teams. Everyone in the team has the files available locally, and the files are automagically kept in synchroniztion. Network traffic is minimal: If the computers are on the same network segment, the files are shared locally, so only one of the computers has to talk to Dropbox’s servers.
Dropbox also supports versioning, so you can get back to an earlier version of a file or recover a file accidentally deleted.
Shameless Plug: If you sign up for Dropbox via this link, you get the usual 2GB of storage, plus an extra 250 MB in your free Dropbox, as do I. Following that, if you tweet about Dropbox, you’ll get some more free space. Post something on Facebook for yet more space. Free accounts can be expanded to 8GB!
Linux Dropbox hint: If you’re sharing files with other computers on your LAN, open port 17500 for both TCP and UDP connections.
Despite the large number of people who say that (1) there are no viruses targeting the Mac and (2) even if there were, the Mac's near perfection would prevent them from infecting any machines, I believe that there is stuff out there and it's just a matter of time before someone develops a really effective bit of malware targeting Macs.* It's debatable whether one needs an antivirus program on a Mac, but on a cost/benefit basis, it seems to me that one ought to be protected.
I'm currently testing the free Home Edition for the Mac from Sophos. It seems to have a fairly light footprint and doesn't seem to interfere with normal processing. I did tell the auto-protect subsystem to ignore the VMWare files. There's no point in scanning those, and I'm using a Windows AV program inside the Windows XP virtual machine.
I had previously tried the Norton Internet Security suite. That stayed on my computer for about 12 hours. It was intrusive and it noticeably slowed the system. It was difficult to turn off the parts I didn't want (e.g., firewall) and conflicted with TimeMachine and mail. These problems are not present with Sophos.
The biggest plus I see is that Sophos is very up front about supporting an open user forum. The first step in the installation takes you to the user forums so you can see if others are having problems before installing. I learned that there was a problem with TimeMachine, but it was fixed in a recent update. That's good stuff to know. It also demonstrates that Sophos is staying on top of the user comments and complaints.
* The folks at Sophos, who clearly have something to gain, have several videos detailing existing threats to the Mac environment. Other warnings are here and here. According to Dave Greenbaum at GigaOm, "The reasons why Macs don’t get many viruses are as much based on luck and market conditions, as they are on inherent security."
A while ago, I wrote a piece about the need to backup your home computers. After tweaking the full-backup script on my desktop today, I thought it would be useful to update the information.
Before we get into it, I hear you say, “But Steve, I’m not technical. I don’t understand about scripts and I have a PC.” For you, I recommend either Mozy or Carbonite. Both are “set it and forget it” systems that, for about $55 a year, will backup your computer into the cloud and keep that backup current whenever it is connected to the internet. Installation is trivial and both have excellent technical support.
I’m backing up 4 computers with four backup methods:
Fedora Linux Desktop
backup of my home folder to a Linux server
backup of entire file system to external USB drive
backup of entire file system to external USB drive using Time Machine
Sony Vaio notebook (MS Vista)
image backup of hard drive to external USB drive
Fedora Linux Server
backup of entire file system to external USB Drive
The Sony Vaio image backup uses CloneZilla. CloneZilla is a free product that works like Symantec Ghost or other commercial image backup programs. I boot the computer from the CloneZilla CD, plug in the external USB drive, and create an image of the hard drive. I use image backup because I’m protecting this system from a failing hard drive. The most likely restore scenario is a “bare metal restore”, not a file restore.
The Linux systems use a simple rsync script for full file system backups. It’s attached below. The main file, “do-backup”, does the backup. The companion file, “do-backup-excludes”, excludes certain virtual parts of the file system from the backup. Restores are easy because the file system is duplicated (through 5 iterations) on the backup media. Files can be restored by a simple copy or by using rsync.
I backup my desktop home directory to the server using a script based on rdiff-backup. Unlike my do-backup script, rdiff-backup uses a combination of rsync and diff files to produce a backup with multiple increments. Restores from increments other than the most recent backup must use the restore functions of rdiff.
The Apple MacBookPro uses Time Machine for backup and like most things Apple, it just works.
It’s been a bit over 3 weeks since I’ve had my iPhone 4 and it’s a keeper. That’s not to say it was all sweetness. The first phone I got had issues. I’d put it next to another iPhone 4 and compare the famous “AT&T Bars”. I usually had half the bars of the other phone. The battery was also a bit weak… It would often drain overnight. Apple swapped the phone at a nearby store and the new one seems to be OK. There’s still a power issue, but that traces to using push notification for two Exchange Active Synch accounts. If I have the accounts enabled for push, the phone seems to spend a lot of time and power synching. It’s almost always warm. Since I changed the synching to manual fetch, the phone is cool and the battery lasts for days, not hours. I wish there were some happy medium.
The Grip-of-Death issue is real. If I hold the phone in either hand and cover the lower left corner, I can say goodbye to my AT&T signal (and whoever I might be talking to). My free bumper case is on its way, according to a shipping notice from the Apple store. It’s going to take about 10 days to get here. Last time the post office scanned it, it had been sent from Tennessee to Georgia on its way to Chicago.
Face Time is pretty amazing. It works pretty much like on the commercials. The key to using it is to hold it in front of and slightly above your face. If you hold it low, you present a double chin and give a nice view up your nostrils. It also has a gyroscope. I’m not sure what there is to do with it yet. There’s a gyroscope app, but what’s the point of that? It’s bound to be integrated into something, soon.
It would have been good to have a couple more billable hours today, but I used my time to follow two live blogs (Gizmodo, Engadget) of the Event That Will Change Everything, while edging ever closer to the slippery slope of the fanboy. I already have several faded black turtlenecks. I may start wearing my jeans without a belt.
There are a few things keeping me from putting a tent up on Michigan Avenue in front of the Apple store. The iPad doesn’t have a camera. This would be a great tool for on the go video conferencing via Skype. It’s also not clear whether it can, in fact, be used for VOIP applications. It’s also not cheap. How much memory is really needed? It comes with 16, 32, and 64GB at $100 for each bump from base. And the 3G capability is another big chunk of change, even before adding $15 or $30 per month for service.
The big reason to wait is that this is version 1. We all know that a year from now, Steve will be on stage showing off iPad 2.0 and It Will Change Everything.
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