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Category Archives: Leopard

EVDO, Back to my Mac, Tweaking Remote Desktop Connection

I just subscribed to a EVDO data service, so I can use a laptop and have internet access wirelessly. The USB dongle works out of the box on my Macbook with some configuration help I found here. On Windows, it’s the typical installing driver and setting up a dial-up connection. Now that everything works, the fun begins.

I want to access my iMac from my Macbook over EVDO. Luckily, I have .Mac (MobileMe), thus there’s back to my Mac. Despite plenty of horror stories about Back to My Mac, it just works for me. No need to deal with port forwarding and stuff. The only thing I find is that I have to enable Back to My Mac on both Macs, not just the one I’m trying to get access too, despite Apple’s description on System Preferences. It works, albeit sluggish since Screen Sharing transmitted all OS X’s eye candy, including all the dock animation, wallpaper, etc. Unfortunately there’s no setting to reduce the quality setting.

Now, how about Windows? I want to see if I can access my XP Media Center PC from an XP Home machine over EVDO. Microsoft offers Remote Desktop Connection, which is free (vs the paid service of MobileMe). However, with XP, you can only setup remote desktop connection to an XP Pro or Media Center (On Vista, only Vista business and Ultimate, another reason why I recommend people NOT to get Home Basic/Premium). You can, however, use any OS that is compatible with the Remote Desktop Connection software as the client. I’ve been using RDC to control my Windows PCs from my Mac. Combing google, I found a way called Remote Desktop Web Connection. The idea is you use RDC within IE, useful for doing remote desktop on any web-enabled PCs with IE. However, it involved installing IIS web server on the remote machine, which has security concerns. I tried it, and I can never get it to work. Silly me, I forgot about the Remote Desktop Connection client software that already comes with XP Home. I thought it only works only on local network, but it actually works over the internet too! If you’re behind a router, you have to forward port 3389 (the default port, you can change it) to the remote PC. It works if you only need access to 1 remote PC. I haven’t figured out what to do if you want to access more than 1 PC.

So, everything seems to be fine and dandy, until I found this article. This article is a great read to secure your remote desktop connection (forcing encryption, limiting users, etc). The only catch is when I removed Administrators from the Local Policies-User Rights Assignment, I couldn’t log-in via RDC anymore. I have to add the username directly on that policy list, despite having the username already on the Remote Desktop setting screen. Remember, enabling remote desktop means you’re allowing outside connection to your PC, thus increasing the risk of attacks.

So there you go. Setting up RDC on Windows is not as simple as Back to My Mac, but it’s free, so can’t argue with that. Another point for Microsoft RDC is that it can adjust the quality setting of the display by disabling themes, wallpaper, and other screen effects for more responsiveness. RDC over EVDO is very smooth, only a bit laggy, in contrast of the sluggishness of Apple’s screen sharing. Back to My Mac is dead easy to setup though, and I believe it is more secure, as long as nobody knows your MobileMe login and password.

 

Time Maching Hints/Tips

Time Machine is Apple’s backup utility included in Mac OS X Leopard. It has a straight forward setup and automatically works. Still, there are several tips I found on the web while searching a way to move my old Time Machine backup from an external hard-drive to my new drobo. I found 2 blog posts that are quite useful.
1. From Ryan Block’s blog: a tip to save some space on your Time Machine drive. By default, Time Machine backs up everything on you Mac. There is an option to exclude certain folders/drives, and Ryan has a list of certain things that Time Machine can skip to save some space, things that are easily recoverable from other sources.

2. From Stephen Foskett’s blog: Time Machine is great, but what if you want to upgrade your Time Machine drive to a newer/larger drive? There is an option to change disk in system preferences, but it doesn’t move your old backup. This tip uses Disk Utility to “restore” the old Time Machine drive to the new one. One note, make sure you don’t need anything on the new drive, since I can only make this work if I check Erase Destination option.

 

Screen Sharing

Amazed by Microsoft’s Remote Desktop software that allows me to control my Windows PCs from my iMac, I’m thinking I bet Apple have this built-in in the OS. Yup, it’s called Screen Sharing in Leopard. Apple made it even easier. All I need to do is to enable “Screen Sharing” on the target Mac (in my case my Macbook), allow access for specific user(s) (this is for security. I you don’t do this, anybody with a VNC client on the network can access the Mac), and voila. I logged out from my Macbook, went to my iMac, opened up Finder, and my Macbook is listed on the Shared computer list. All I needed was to click “Share Screen,” and a Screen Sharing app started, and I can log-in to my Macbook via my iMac.

Again, probably nothing new for some computer networking experts, but I still find these features to be awesome. Having multiple computers used to force me to go to different computers to control them. Even with a KVM switch, it’s still a hassle. Now I can control everything from 1 computer. 🙂

 
 

MacOS X 10.5 Leopard impression, part 3

Finder: I wish I could set certain folders on certain view mode. For example, I prefer most folders to have columns view, but my Documents and Pictures folders would be better using cover flow. Nope, I have to switch manually depending on where I’m at. Annoying.

Preview: This is probably one of the most useful apps in the OS. Why? You can crop and resize images with it. You no longer have to run iPhoto or download other software to do simple things like cropping and resizing. There is also a feature called instant alpha. I haven’t really played with it, by the idea is to be used for getting rid of backgrounds, something that was usually only doable in advance photo editors.

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2008 in 10.5.2, finder, Leopard, MacOS, MacOS X, preview

 

Aluminum Penryn iMac

Just arrived.
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Unpacking.
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Setting up is fairly quick. There is only 1 cable in the box, the AC cable. 🙂
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The 20″ looks small in stores, especially when compared to the 24″. However, it’s pretty big on my desk.

First sweet impression is the smooth aluminum. Apple does know how to design this beauty. The aluminum and black frame + black Apple logo really makes the iMac look professional.

When I turned it on, I found the glossy screen to be very bright, too bright for my taste. All my previous desktop LCD monitors are not glossy. I ended up reducing the brightness to the lowest level. Yup, the lowest level, and it is still pretty bright. The glossy LCD doesn’t seem to have a very wide viewing angle.

One annoying thing I find is the lack of USB ports. Most recent PC desktops have at least 4+ USB ports on the back and one or two USB ports on the front. The iMac only have 3 USB ports on the back (one which is automatically used for the keyboard, leaving only 2 free left). The wired keyboard has 2 USB ports on its side, but the location prevents anything other than a USB cable or those super tiny USB key to be connected to them. I find this to be annoying. Jobs compared the iMac with a cable cluttered Dell PC during the aluminum iMac announcement. Well, the cable clutter is still here, considering the iMac is non-expandable. Adding storage means external drives, which means extra cables and AC adaptors. A USB hub is definitely a must, especially if you have many USB devices like iPods and digicams, thus more cable clutter. Then there’s the ethernet and audio cable. The location of the USB ports on the back is not really convenient. I hope the next iMac revision will have more USB ports, preferably on the iMac’s sides, and maybe add an SD card slot too.

Transferring my stuff from my Macbook is pretty easy. For calendar, email, and address book, I simply used my trial of .Mac sync. For my iTunes music, I simply copy the iTunes folder from my Macbook to an external drive, and then to the iMac. I use the same username so everything came out as if nothing has happened. Same thing with iPhoto. iPhoto 08 simply convert my iPhoto 06 library into a single file. Setting Time Machine cannot be easier. I use a Firewire external hard-drive. First run takes quite a while since Time Machine is copying the whole hard drive.

Setting up the iMac is not as quick as Jobs advertised (5 to 10 minutes), more like at least 15 to 30 minutes, including downloading and installing all the latest patches, setting up the firewall and other preferences, etc. At least Apple didn’t pre-install the Office and iWorks trial software anymore. Still better than a store bought windows PC where you will waste time uninstalling crap and installing firewall, anti-virus, anti spyware software, etc. The cable clutter is not going away, unless you’re going wireless with bluetooth and wifi.

The move to Penryn really makes the new iMacs cooler. I use a widget called iStat nano to monitor various temperatures on the iMac, and it never gets as hot as my Mac mini, and is definitely way cooler than my Macbook. Of course, comparing a desktop with a notebook is not really fair, but my Merom based Macbook can reach high temperatures fairly quickly under normal use.

A lot of people that only use Windows always complain about Macs being too expensive. If you compare spec per spec, Macs are priced quite competitively, considering all Macs come with wifi, bluetooth, Firewire, and gigabit ethernet, things that are not usually found on a typical windows PC. However, the difference is that you cannot configure Macs to be cheaper than what Apple already set for the baseline config. If you configure a Dell, you can configure it to cost as low as couple hundred dollars to as high as couple thousand of dollars, even on the same model. Not with Macs, you can only go up, not down. For example, you cannot configure the 20″ iMac to be cheaper than $1199. Also, certain configs can only be obtained on the next more expensive model. For example, you cannot get the 20″ iMac with the new GeForce 8800GS video card. For that, you have to spend more getting the 24″. If you’re looking for the cheapest barebone computer, or a computer that you want to expand later (without spending a lot of dough on Mac Pros), Macs are not the choice. However, if you are willing to spend enough to get a complete PC, Macs are definitely something to look at. The OS experience is just better than Windows.

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2008 in 2008, aluminum, iMac, Leopard, MacOS X, penryn

 

"Start Menu" in Leopard

leopard screenshot
This is what I get for putting the Application folder as one of the Stacks, set the view as “List.” Great! I don’t have to pick apps via Finder anymore. Next step I would do is to clean up my dock icons to only a few ones. Kinda like Windows’ “Quick Launch.” LOL. I guess I still have Windows in my mind on doing things.

 

MacOS X 10.5 Leopard impression, part 2

When using Leopard, I find that certain things make more sense compared to Tiger. Stacks is a welcomed feature. Although it is easily emulated on Tiger, Stacks keeps the desktop clean. The translucent menu bar has drawn many criticism, but the translucent effect can be turned off now with the latest update. Many don’t like the 3D dock either, but I prefer the dock to be on the side so it’s a non-issue. I still think Windows’ Start menu is quicker to start apps, rather than starting Finder (kinda like using Windows Explorer to find and start your Apps). In general, the aesthetics are great and nicer compared to Tiger. Small things like rounded menu edges and higher resolution/better contrasted icons are pleasing to the eyes.

A new feature in Finder that I find very handy is that now Finder can list all networked computers on the sidebar. Definitely provides easier access compared to Tiger’s Finder. This also works great with my Windows Home Server unit as all the shared folders are automatically listed. Tiger’s Finder feels like a big hassle now. Network drives connectivity are maintained, even after putting my Mac to sleep. However, Leopard still doesn’t mount networked drives automatically unless you specifically assign them as a start-up item. I missed Windows’ ability to just map a networked drive into a drive letter.

Frontrow now uses Apple TV’s interface. Although it looks better, it only shows thumbnails of videos. Frontrow in Tiger will show a preview of the videos. The same alias trick can still be used to allow Frontrow to read files from any other locations in addition to the local media folders. Works great streaming videos from my Windows Home Server. Also since my HP WHS unit has iTunes server capability, music streaming via Frontrow has never been easier.

All this network capabilities are great, but it makes me wonder about security. Well, guess what, the firewall is NOT enabled by default in Leopard. Although there is probably a very low chance of attacks on Macs, not enabling firewall by default is not nice, considering XP SP2 has its firewall enabled by default. Also, Leopard’s firewall has a quite confusing interface. There’s only 3 options, allowing all incoming connection, blocking everything except essential services, or application firewall. Do a search on Google and there is a lot of controversies and discussions about Leopard’s different approach of firewall. Well, choosing the second option made all my networked shares disappear in Finder. Picking the 3rd one made them appear again. We’ll see how effective/intrusive this is on a daily basis.

I used a trial for .Mac to transfer my email, address book and calendar from my Macbook, and it works flawlessly. Still not sure if it is worth the subscription fee though.

Overall experience of Leopard seems very smooth. Performance seems to be very snappy, even on my old Core Duo Mac mini with only Intel’s GMA950. In fact, IMO MacOS seems to be the only OS where the general GUI experience doesn’t fell to be slowed down by the stupid integrated graphic. I have a WinXP PC with the same GMA950 integrated graphics, and I felt performance issues with the regular GUI response compared to a PC with a dedicated graphic card. It doesn’t help that most PCs with integrated graphic have low end processors too. Maybe it’s the dual core.

I have not tried Time Machine. Have to buy an external drive first. 🙂

Leopard is a nice aesthetic upgrade from Tiger. Although it draws many criticism, there are just many small pleasant things that contribute to the better overall experience. Tiger is still a fine and solid OS, but Leopard will give you a smoother Mac experience, even on the same hardware.

 

MacOS X 10.5 Leopard impression, part 1

My Leopard Mac is up and running. Installing the OS was probably the easiest and smoothest OS install I’ve ever experienced. I chose a clean install. During the start of the installation, the program did a forced self-check integrity of the DVD, similar to Ubuntu’s CD test but not optional. It takes quite a while since I have a notebook DVD drive. After that, the setup is straight forward and easily understandable.

The nice thing about MacOS installs is no drivers installs! Yup, since Apple controlled the specs of most Macs, pretty much all the drivers are included in the OS. So no need to hunt down drivers, F6 installs, etc etc. Once the OS install finished, the system rebooted, and voila, the sleek welcome video started. The next step was to simply run software update and install all the patches and updates.

I notice a funny behavior of Apple’s patches. The first run of software update only contained updates to 10.5.2 and few other patches. After installing all of them and rebooted, a second run of software update revealed a whole different set of patches, incremental. A bit different than windows where Microsoft pretty much put out almost all the hundreds of patches on a first run of Windows Update.

More impressions next.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2008 in 10.5.2, apple, Leopard, MacOS, MacOS X