Tag Archives: Mac OS

Apple is back with exciting new innovations at WWDC 2013

Apple’s giant annual developer conference, WWDC 2013, is currently in progress, but we have reached a point where I think we can officially say that Apple is back. Like keynotes from their glory days, this keynote was chock full of surprises and gasps that get you excited about what is coming in the Apple ecosystem.

Apple product updates announced at WWDC 2013

  1. Updated Mac OS called OS X Mavericks
  2. Updated MacBook Pro (with up to 12 hours battery life, that’s right, 12)
  3. Updated Mac Pro (that could probably power a space station)
  4. iWorks refresh (including browser-based versions that are compatible with IE, Chrome, on any computer)
  5. iOS 7 with an incredible new design
  6. iTunes Radio

Six might seem like a small number, but each of those updates (except for maybe the new base station) are huge updates that will completely change the Apple ecosystem going forward. I could write full articles about each of these updates, but in my excitement, I will keep it to posting the main front stage updates made in each case and just a brief sentence about what it is.

Mac OS X Mavericks

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While this update isn’t a huge jump, there are many small things that will make using this operating system better than the last. Skeuomorphism, the act of creating an app that resembles its physical counterpart (like the calendar looks like a physical leather-bound calendar), seems to be dead in the new software released today. This gives an overall smoother and sleeker look.

Here are the new features that were discussed for Mac OS X Mavericks:

  1. Tabs for Finder: Instead of having multiple windows open for Finder, you can have tabs within one window which will make it easier to manage a lot of windows in Finder and dragging and dropping content between tabs. 
  2. Tags: Able to tag documents throughout the whole system, which will then show up in your Finder menu bar. Looks very useful for organizing all sorts of things.
  3. Apple Maps app: Hopefully a better iteration of Apple Maps, but with cool features like send directions to iPhone, the integration is making it much more compelling.
  4. New Calendar app: A bit sleeker than the older version. A few very cool features: when you type something into location (example given was Pizza), the app will search for local pizza areas and will let you choose the one you want. It then displays the information on a map within your appointment, and most impressively will also give you a time estimate for getting there. Much like Google Now, you have the option of being alerted if you have to leave in order to make it to an appointment on time. Unfortunately, I believe Apple Maps weaknesses might make this feature just OK. The app also gives you a weather estimate for your appointment.
  5. Safari: The new Safari design is similar to the iOS 7 redesign, which I’ll talk about later in this article. The overall appearance is sleek and simple. It shows bookmarks/reading lists on the left where you can actually browse the sites within the same window by clicking on a bookmark or reading list item, and also has integrated social networking like Twitter.
  6. iCloud Keychain: Allows iCloud to save your passwords and credit cards and sync them across all of your devices. Very powerful, and even allows you to generate absurd passwords that will be saved. A cool idea, but I see generating a password like “sra-av34-refav-323e” will be a problem when you are anywhere else than an Apple device. I suppose it would work with logging into iCloud first in a browser, but still annoying.
  7. Power saving features: Without going into detail, there are a ton of power saving features that seem to really optimize how your system runs. I think this will have a profound effect on future laptops, and should give better performance for the system as a whole.

I think this is a great incremental update that keeps things fresh in the Mac OS world. I will be happy to get it this Fall, and see how well things work across the new system and the new iOS.

MacBook Air

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Although hardware looks the same, the new MacBook Air has been pushed a bit further while lowering the price. Both the 11 inch and 13 inch models see a significant jump in battery life with the 11 inch going from 5 hours to 9 hours, and the 13 inch going from 7 hours to 12 hours. That type of battery life is just incredible, and will certainly make owning a MacBook Air an even better experience.

In addition to battery life, both models are now based on the new Haswell chip from Intel which will give it more power while at the same time allowing that incredible battery life. The WiFi receiver also sees an update to 802.11ac which according to Apple, can increase WiFi connection speeds by up to 3x.

The price is reduced about $100 dollars per model.

Mac Pro

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The Mac Pro is completely redesigned with a lot of power beneath the hood, in a smaller form. A notable feature is that the Mac Pro will support up to three 4K displays. The design itself is very sleek and small, and completely changes the look of the Mac Pro. I think power users will be very grateful for this update, with many quotes claiming to increase various areas of performance by 2-3x.

iWork

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While we didn’t get to see the actual new iWork (it will be released later this year), we did get to see iWork on the web in iCloud. This worked very well, and looked to be almost desktop apps in the iCloud interface. What is incredible is that it works in Internet Explorer and Chrome, and will work on any system. This really broadens the scope for iWork, and makes sharing and displaying documents much easier.

Hopefully the redesigned apps themselves will also be nice, but for me it is just a huge relief that one is definitely on the way. It is way overdue, and sorely needed.

iOS 7

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This update is to be quite honest, positively gorgeous. The interface is flat, sleek, and beautiful.

Here is a look at the notable new features of iOS 7:

  1. Control Center: Get quick access toggles for: brightness, airplane mode, Bluetooth, WiFi, screen lock, music controls, camera, location services, and even a flashlight toggle. This was sorely needed.
  2. Multitasking: True, full multitasking that will allow apps to update in the background, and a multitasking screen that is similar to the Palm Cards system. This allows you to see each screen for each app, and “flick” away apps you aren’t using any longer.
  3. Safari: Gorgeous new tab views, and a beautiful new design
  4. Airdrop to other iOS devices: Transfer data and photos from one device to the other using a network.  It uses a secure connection, and there won’t be any need to physically “bump” devices like Android.
  5. Camera: Live photo filters and a new Photos app to organize pictures. Photos organizes pictures into moments intelligently by a variety of metadata such as location and time. Moments zooms out to collections zooms out to years. Truly impressive view that categorizes your photos. Allows you to scrub through small thumbnails that will enlarge as you put your finger over the photo.
  6. Backgrounds with depth: This is truly a “wow” factor feature that basically gives you a depth of field behind your icons. As you move your device around, the image seems to be 3D and keeps it aligned with your eye sight. Gorgeous.
  7. iCloud photo sharing: Share your photos directly to iCloud, and can share streams where others can add their own photos (and videos) with their comments. Makes it incredibly easy to share and comment among friends and family using iCloud.
  8. Siri: New interface somewhat similar to Google Now. Siri now has a new voice, either male or female that actually sound like humans instead of a robot. Siri has more access to your device, and can do things like turn off Bluetooth, control brightness, and play last voicemail. New integrated services into Siri: Twitter, Wikipedia, Bing search results.
  9. iOS in the Car: New car integration that includes iOS displayed on the actual screen of your car. A complete voice powered system with Siri to completely control your phone and navigation. It looks incredible, but probably will depend on all the car partners they have deals with putting it in.
  10. App store: Automatic updates, you can see apps nearby to see what others are using.
  11. Music app: Artist images, and all purchased music viewable in your library. All movies and TV shows are also accessible through the music app though stored on iCloud. It’s very pretty, but not too revolutionary.
  12. FaceTime Audio: We can finally do audio-only FaceTime calls!
  13. Notification sync: If you clear a notification in one area, it will sync to all your other devices.
  14. Phone, FaceTime, and Message blocking: This feature is pretty self-explanatory.
  15. Activation lock: If a thief takes your phone and attempts to deactivate Find My iPhone or erase the phone, it will not be able to be reactivated without your iCloud name and password.

iOS7 will be available immediately for Developers as a beta version, but not available for consumers until this Fall.

Overall, I think they did an incredible job on this one. It definitely looks like Windows Phone and Android had a baby, but in a good way. It is a huge change from the old iOS, and I think that is just what Apple needed.

iTunes Radio

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This new feature was much-anticipated, and is built right into the new Music app on iOS 7. What will this new feature do for you?

  1. Seems to have categories similar to Pandora (like “Summer Songs”)
  2. Create your own stations from various artists/genres/songs
  3. Can adapt your station by saying “Play more songs like this” or “Never play this song”
  4. Of course, the ability to buy a song directly from the iTunes Radio app

Revolutionary? Not so much. However, it is a cool feature that is built-in and integrated into Desktop/iOS and Apple TV. It is free with ads, and is ad-free with iTunes Match Subscriptions. Basically exactly like Pandora, with some better integration.

Overall impression of the keynote

I have seen lots of mixed comments on various articles and forums, but I think this was an absolute win for Apple. My reasons are this:

  • Apple released a bunch of new updates across a variety of platforms, and they clearly tried to innovate as best they could. Just showing that they are putting this much effort into this, and throwing what they can at it is encouraging, and I think it shows they won’t go down without a fight.
  • They really changed iOS. Sure, it may be a copy cat in a bunch of areas, but the biggest thing is that it is different. Apple haters have been complaining for a long time that iOS was old and not updated enough, and that things needed to change. Well, for better or worse, this is a change. Once we get our hands on it, we can really see how much it changes things.
  • Most everyone on the stage had a great presence, particularly Craig Federighi who is the Senior VP of Software. He was clearly very intelligent, had fun with the crowd, and really commanded attention and inspired confidence. I almost fell asleep when Tim Cook spoke, but other than that, it was great.

I think these updates put Apple back in the game. I don’t know at this point if they are back on top, but they have added some much wanted features, and completely redid their iOS system. At the very least, it shows that they are in for the rat race and they aren’t going to sit on the sides lines resting on their laurels.

Some people might think Tim Cook isn’t doing a good job, or that this isn’t the new direction Apple should take, or even that they’re copying other platforms… but who cares? They did what they had to do by changing something, and at the end of the day, they have the money and power to change things as they go along. This was the big first step, and hopefully the next ones will follow confidently.

How to find out if your Mac is infected with malware

One of the favorite Mac vs. PC myths is “PCs are slow, they always crash, and get viruses!” The corollary to that would be “Macs never get viruses.” That’s getting harder to say with a straight face.

In April, research firm Sophos released a study that found one in five Macs was infected with malware. The study comes from a survey of 100,000 Macs that downloaded Sophos’s free Mac antivirus software, so it was a decent sample size.

(It’s important to note that these malware programs are Windows programs, so they aren’t able to do anything unless the Mac runs Windows software. They are mostly harmless.)

No matter what software is affected though, this increasing trend demonstrates that hackers are able to sneak unwanted software payload onto Apple  computers. Currently, 2.7 percent of infected Macs are infected with Mac OS-compatible malware.

Malware such as the Flashfake Mac OS X botnet have been reported to have infected 500,000 Macs. It disguises itself as an Adobe Flash installer and hijacks the search engine results that appear in a browser.

How to find out if your Mac is infected

There are several free applications to help you find out if your Mac is infected:

The word “trusted” on the last item is important because the list is part of a post on a new malware which specifically targets Macs. Fake security applications like “Mac Defender,” “Mac Security,” and “Mac Protector” have tricked unsuspecting users into installing malware instead of antivirus software. Luckily this one is fairly obvious to find (read the post for very good instructions.)

To avoid future malicious downloads, the post recommends turning off any option that automatically opens or installs downloaded files, as well as restricting downloads to specific folders.

The only guaranteed way to avoid malware is to not connect your Mac to the Internet. Being careful while using the Internet helps, but even the most computer-savvy users can get infected with malware without knowing it. In lieu of completely disconnecting your computer from the Internet, the most effective deterrent seems to be keeping up with the latest Apple security updates.

Review: Elmedia Player for Mac

It’s no secret that Macs have a problem with media playback, shipping with extremely limited options available. Some media files are simply unplayable without third party software. That’s part of the reason why players like VLC have become so popular (it’s the only player I will use). But where’s the fun in that? Where are all the choices? What about democracy? That’s where Elmedia Player comes in.

Elmedia Player comes in a free version as well as a PRO version ($20). I was lucky enough to obtain a copy of the PRO version for testing purposes and will share my thoughts on that version later. As far as the free version goes, it is a fine alternative to VLC Player, but offers no real reason to switch if you are already a VLC user. Both versions of Elmedia Player will play the following formats: FLV, SWF, XAP, RM and RV, AVI, MOV, MP4, WMV, DIVX, DAT, and more. Both allow for the creation of playlists as well. And in a nice twist, Elmedia has decided to include built-in playback of online video with their mini-broswer, which you can see in the screenshot labelled “Browse Now”.

In the PRO version there is a whole bunch of options that became available to you like converting any movie file into a series of still images or take screenshots of individual moments or download streaming/online videos directly to your hard drive. That last point was my favorite feature offered by Elmedia and the function was handled beautifully. Rather than having two windows open at once, Elmedia Player PRO uses that built-in mini web browser to help you locate the online videos of your choice. From there, select the Video tab from the options and find the correct media file in the list (Hint: YouTube videos are usually FLV). And that’s it! You now have that video saved to your hard drive to watch at your leisure.

All in all, Elmedia Player is great. It works well enough to be your primary media player, but things really get interesting when you purchase the PRO version and access the advanced user options. The user interface is clean and very similar to iTunes, which means for the average user it should be easy to pick up and play around with.

If you wish to download the program or take a deeper look at the offerings, point your cursor in the direction of their official website. If you do try out the player, let us know about your experience. Love it? Hate it? Like it? We want to know.

Take Your To Do List to the Command Line

If you’re serious about your to do list and want to be sure that you can use it in the future, then you should think about embracing your inner geek by 1) going text only, and 2) doing everything at the command line. The best way to do that is with Todo.txt.

Hold On … The Command Line?

You’re probably wondering why you should use the command line instead of popular Web applications like Remember the Milk, Toodledo, Todoist, or Ta-Da Lists. They’re all great, no doubt about it. But you need to be connected to the Internet to use them. And it’s not easy to export or move data between those apps or to other services.

With Todo.txt, you’re using a text file. And let’s be honest, the format of a text file hasn’t changed in … well, a long time.

Getting Going

Todo.txt is a shell script. To use it, you’ll need a bash shell. That’s not a problem if you use Linux or Mac OS — they both come with one built in. Windows users, on the other hand, are out of luck. Unless, of course, they use something called Cygwin (tools that add a Linux-like environment to Windows).

Once you have a bash shell, now all you need to do is download the archive containing the script. When you pop that archive open, you’ll see it contains two files:

  • todo.sh, the shell script
  • todo.cfg, a configuration file

Extract the files to a folder in your path — on my Linux-powered laptops, I put them in /usr/local/bin. Then, edit the file todo.cfg to point the shell script to where you want to store the actual to do list file. Look for the entry EXPORT TODO_DIR= and change the path.

Editing the configuration file

Using Todo.txt

Let’s start by adding a task. Open a terminal window and then type todo.sh add [task] — for example, todo.sh add Edit Chromium FLOSS Manual. Then, press Enter.

Adding a task

Obviously, you’ll want to check your to do list from time to time. Do that by typing todo.sh list in a terminal window.

Listing your tasks

Notice that each item in the list has a number. That number is useful to know when you want to add a priority to a specific task or mark the task as complete.

Why add a priority? Well, some tasks are more important than others. Adding a priority moves them up in the list. Priorities start at A (most important), and move down from there.

To add a priority, type todo.sh p [task number] letter, where letter is a letter of the alphabet. For example, todo.sh p 7 B. That adds a priority of B to task 7 in the list.

Marking a task as done

Finally, when you’ve completed a task you can mark it as done and remove it from the list by typing todo.sh do [task number] — for example, todo.sh do 7.

Todo.txt can do a lot more. To learn about all of the available options, type todo.sh -h to read the help.

Going Graphical

You say you like the idea of Todo.txt, but the command line part is a bit geeky for you. If you have an Android-powered phone or tablet and an account with Dropbox (an online file storage and syncing service), then you can install an app called Todo.txt Touch on your phone from the Android Market.

Todo.txt Touch everything that todo.sh does at the command line, but on a touchscreen. The app saves your to do list to a folder in Dropbox. From there, you can share the list with your computer and/or with any other Android-powered devices you might own.

Todo.txt on your phone

Final Thoughts

Even though using the command line sounds difficult and a tad geeky, Todo.txt is easy to learn and use. Even for the most ardent GUI addict. And by using Todo.txt Touch on your Android device, you can literally have your to do list anywhere and in a format that won’t be obsolete anytime soon.

Image credit: Dean Shareski

How to Close Pidgin Chat Windows with the Escape Key

Pidgin (formerly known as Gaim) is a free, multi-protocol instant messaging application for Windows, Mac, and Linux.  Pidgin is highly customizable and supports popular instant messaging networks like Google Talk, MSN/Windows Live Messenger, AIM, Yahoo! Chat, and can connect to services like Facebook Chat through plugins (or directly through the XMPP messaging protocol).

In recent versions of Pidgin, the developers changed the default “close chat window” hotkey from the Escape key to the combination CTRL + W.  While I understand their reasons for doing this (many desktop applications have standardized CTRL + W as the ubiquitous “Close Window” hotkey), I simply can’t break the habit of closing IM windows with Escape.

Here’s how to change Pidgin’s configuration so Escape closes the IM window instead of CTRL + W.

Update: Reader Miguel submitted a much easier way to use the Escape key to close IM windows. Thanks!

Step 1: In Pidgin, go to Tools –> Preferences.

Step 2: In the Interface tab, enable the checkbox for “Close conversations with the escape key”.

That’s it! This change will make Pidgin recognize Escape as the hotkey to close IM windows. Commence celebration.

The other (more difficult) way to use the Escape key to close IM window

Step 1: Close Pidgin.

Step 2: Windows XP: Navigate to the following directory on your computer (where username is the user you’re logged in as):

C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\.purple\

Windows Vista or Windows 7: Navigate to the following directory on your computer (where username is the user you’re logged in as):

C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\.purple\

Linux/UNIX: Navigate to the following directory:

~/.purple/

Step 3: Locate the file called accels and open it with Notepad (or a similar text editor, I prefer Notepad++).

image

Step 4: Find the line that contains the following code:

; (gtk_accel_path “

/Conversation/Close” “w”)

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Delete the semicolon (;) and change the line to the following code:

(gtk_accel_path “

/Conversation/Close” “Escape”)

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A Not-So-In-Depth Review of Apple’s Snow Leopard

Apple’s brand new operating system, Mac OS X version 10.6 Snow Leopard, was released Friday, August 28, 2009. We’ll take a look at some of the new “features” of the OS, and what you can expect when upgrading.

Some Mildly Important Info:

If you’re looking for a really ridiculously detailed review of Snow Leopard, by all means please check out Ars Technica’s review. It’s a whopping 23 pages long and covers everything you would ever want to know.

My review will not be like that…at all. In fact, I wouldn’t even be qualified to talk about some of the deep, gutsy portions of the OS they go into. But here’s a little info about me so you understand where I’m coming from:

I’m a graphic designer. I own two MacBook Pros (the 1st and 2nd generations), a Mac Mini, and I use an iMac at work. I’ve been using a Mac since 2005, when Tiger was the default OS. I tend to run my Macs pretty hard, using the Adobe Creative Suite 4 daily.

The Actual Review:

There’s not much in terms of new features, which will make this review short and sweet. The focus on Apple’s part was to really clean up the OS under the hood and make it a truly 64-bit system. We’ll start there.

Cleaning Up

Snow Leopard is smaller and faster, thanks in part to Apple ditching support for PowerPC processors. It’s unfortunate, but if you’re still using a G4 or G5, welcome to 2009. Apple touts its new install will give you back up to 7GB of hard drive space. This is mostly correct, but as it turns out, Apple changed the rules of the game a bit and is calculating hard drive space in the same way the hard drive manufacturers do. So, instead of a 600GB hard drive being seen by the OS as 560GB, it’s now seen as 600GB. It’s kind of arbitrary, and it’s nice that Apple is now aligned with hard drive manufacturers, but I’m sure there will be some backlash. For more info, see this link.

64-Bit, sorta

Snow Leopard is now 64-bit! Unfortunately, that doesn’t really matter too much right now. There aren’t a whole lot of programs that will be running natively, and in fact, Snow Leopard itself doesn’t even boot into 64-bit mode by default (hold down 6 and 4 while starting up to do that). It’s a step in the right direction, to be sure, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer to reap the benefits.

Exposé

This is one of the best new things about Snow Leopard – Exposé finally has some attention paid to it. Snow Leopard now gives you the ability to click and hold on a dock icon, and it will run Exposé for windows of just that app. And to top it off, Exposé finally arranges icons in a grid-like way, instead of the haphazard flying windows from previous versions.

QuickTime

QuickTime X is better. It’s sleeker, faster, and gives you some editing capabilities, as well as the option to upload videos directly to YouTube. Cool.

Google Integration

I’ve used things like Spanning Sync and Google’s Collaboration to sync things like my Gmail and Google Calendars, but now finally Apple allows you to natively sync your Google Contacts and Google Calendars with Address Book and iCal, respectively. It works like it should.

Printers

I just purchased a new laser printer last night, plugged it in, and it worked. Now, this used to happen anyway, but Leopard previously used a generic printer driver to communicate. Now, Snow Leopard fetches the correct printer driver from the almighty Interwebs and installs it automatically. This feature has been around for a long time on Windows (going back to XP), but it always seemed a little clunky to me with all the extraneous little pop-ups throughout the installation process. This is streamlined, and to be honest, I didn’t even know it was happening. I plugged in, went to print something, and my printer was there in the list and ready to go.

Accessing printers over a network is just as easy. Any time you access a print dialog box, Snow Leopard lists available printers for you (even the printers that aren’t installed on your computer). If you choose a shared printer that you’ve never used before, your Mac simply finds the correct driver, installs it, and you’re ready to go.

Some Other Stuff

Apple’s Snow Leopard site touts some other new features: MS Exchange support, faster startup and shutdown, quicker Time Machine backups, etc.

Bad Things

I’ll be honest, I haven’t run into any nightmare situations since installing. The one problem I did have was with fonts. I use a third-party font manager, Linotype Font Xplorer. That program does a little tinkering with font locations, so when Snow Leopard reinstalled all the system fonts, I was getting a lot of duplicates or missing font errors. It only took me about 10 minutes to fix, but keep that in mind if you’re a designer-type or someone who uses some third-party programs to manage system assets like fonts.

The End

Other than that, I’m pretty happy with how things are running since I upgraded. The transition was seamless and, in my opinion, well worth the $49 I spent on the Family Pack. The $29 option is quite reasonable as well, especially considering the performance enhancements. As I said earlier, there aren’t many new features, but a lot of care went into refining what was already a great OS.

My only question is: what will Apple do with their OS now? Will Snow Leopard just keep getting refined or will there be a game-changing OS in the not-too-distant future? Let us know what you think in the comments.

http://arstechnica.com/apple/reviews/2009/08/mac-os-x-10-6.ars