Disinfect Your Keyboard
Keyboards, particularly those shared by multiple people, harbor huge quantities of bacteria. If you want to reduce the chances of picking up your co-worker's cold, you can disinfect your keyboard with disinfecting wipes. To avoid damage to the keyboard, be sure to:
- Unplug the keyboard before disinfecting it.
- Squeeze out any excess liquids from the cloth to avoid liquid dripping into the keyboard.
- Don't let any liquid from the wipe sit for long periods of time on the keyboard.
- Don't scrub the keyboard, just lightly wipe down. Rubbing too hard leaves behind more lint.
- Avoid cleansing cloths that contain bleach.
Visit Das Keyboard
The surprise news for the week was Apple’s quiet discontinuation of the Xserve; datacenter expert Chuck Goolsbee delivers its eulogy. In iLife news, Adam covers the release of iPhoto ’11 9.1, which restores calendar functionality, and Jeff Carlson reveals 15 secrets of iMovie ’11. Lex Friedman explains how to fix a “file not found” error when syncing an iPad, Adam looks at the release of the Simon server monitoring tool, and we’re pleased to release Sharon Zardetto’s new ebook, “Take Control of Safari 5.” We also have a DealBITS discount on PDFpen and PDFpenPro from Smile, and a new DealBITS drawing for Simon. Notable software releases this week include TweetDeck 0.36.1, Mac Pro EFI Firmware Update 1.5, Data Rescue 3.1, Adobe InDesign CS5 7.0.3, Logic Express 9.1.3, PopChar X 5.1, and TwitExport 2.0.1.
Apple’s release of iPhoto ’11 9.1 brings back support for calendars, just in time for the holiday season and the new year.Show full article
Apple’s omission of support for creating and printing calendars in iPhoto ’11 was odd, and the company would initially say only that calendar support would return “very soon.” (See “iLife ’11 Updates Three of Its Apps,” 20 October 2010.) Given the popularity of calendars as holiday gifts just before the new year, we were forced to recommend that anyone planning to create a calendar for the holiday season hold off from upgrading to iPhoto ’11 (and the bug that caused photos to be deleted in the 9.0 release didn’t help either).
Luckily, two weeks after the initial release of iPhoto ’11, iPhoto ’11 9.1 has now realized Apple’s “very soon.” This also comes less than a week after the 9.0.1 release that resolved the photo deletion bug (which may have been related to incorrect permissions within the iPhoto Library package, according to one site). You can download the new version directly from Apple’s Web site or get it from Software Update.
Apple says that iPhoto 9.1 not only provides the capability to create and order calendars, it also makes available additional letterpress holiday greeting card themes. The only other change mentioned is a fix for an issue that prevented videos downloaded from MobileMe or Flickr from importing correctly into iPhoto events.
Frankly, I’ll be upgrading my iPhoto Library on my main Mac now, and look forward to digging into the changes in a more-than-cursory way, since before this I didn’t dare commit to an upgrade that would play havoc with my calendar gift plans.
by Lex Friedman
An ambiguous iTunes error message when syncing your iPad has an easy—but non-obvious—fix.Show full article
I don’t sync my iPad all too often. It holds a charge for so long and is nearly always on a Wi-Fi network, so it’s easy to just plug it in at night, download app updates directly on the device, and forget that it can even sync with iTunes at all.
So when I have a lot of new music or other media to sync, the process can take a while. iTunes inevitably wants to back up the device—which I appreciate—and make sure everything’s in order. Recently, though, I began to encounter a decidedly unpleasant issue when syncing: an ambiguous error was halting the syncing process prematurely. Again and again, each time I tried to sync, iTunes popped up this error:
“The iPad ‘Lex’s iPad’ cannot be synced. The required file cannot be found.”
To my eyes, that error message has two defining characteristics:
- It’s not in the slightest bit helpful.
- It seems highly Google-able.
So I searched the Internet for a fix. As it turns out, the true culprit for this poorly described error is, of all things, iPhoto. Apple has a rather terse support note, “Issues when syncing photos to iPhone or iPod touch,” that gave me the clue I needed to fix the problem.
When you sync photos to your iOS devices, iTunes creates a hidden folder called iPod Photo Cache. That’s where it tucks away data regarding your photos to optimize them for your iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads.
The fix? Delete the iPod Photo Cache folder.
To find the folder, first quit iPhoto and then navigate to your iPhoto Library, which is located in your home folder at
~/Pictures/iPhoto Library. When you find it, Control-click it and choose Show Package Contents from the contextual menu. (The iPhoto Library is a package, which is a special sort of folder. Show Package Contents exposes its contents.)
Inside that folder, you’ll find the iPod Photo Cache folder. Drag it to the Trash. (If you don’t make regular backups—well, first, shame on you, but second, you may prefer just to drag the iPod Photo Cache to the Desktop, and not trash it right away. But the fact that iTunes can easily regenerate the cache is at the core of this fix.)
It's also worth noting that the iPod Photo Cache can contain a lot of unnecessary data; Adam Engst was having the same problem syncing his iPad, and his iPod Photo Cache folder weighed in at over 11 GB when he deleted it; the regenerated copy took up less than 2 GB. If you switch from syncing photos from iPhoto to syncing from another folder, you’ll want to remove the folder manually to recover disk space—see Apple’s “iTunes: Photo sync creates iPod Photo Cache folder” support note.
Once you’ve axed the iPod Photo Cache folder, relaunch iTunes. Attach your iPad to your Mac, click its name in the sidebar, and then click the Photos button in the main iTunes pane. You need to reconfigure which albums, events, and faces you wish to sync, and when you’re done, click the Apply button to sync your iPad. You’ll see a warning that photos on the iPad will be replaced; don’t worry about it, since all the photos that are being replaced came from your Mac to start with. The sync should proceed apace (though iTunes has to optimize all your photos again, so it may take a little while), but when it’s done, rejoice: the error message will be a thing of the past.
I don’t yet understand why or when this error occurs, or how to prevent it. But the workaround is painless enough, and recurrence of the error rare enough, that I haven’t given it much thought.
The server monitoring tool Simon has been upgraded to version 3.0, gaining interface refinements and powerful filters that help you analyze the results of the Internet services you test.Show full article
If you need to monitor any sort of Internet service, or if you want a tool that will watch Web pages for changes, the main game in town for the Mac is Dejal Systems’ Simon, now updated to version 3.0. In active development since 2003 and with its first major upgrade in five years, Simon 3.0 refines its user interface and extends its capabilities with the concept of filters that enable you to analyze and act on the results of a test in a wide variety of ways. I’ve used Simon for a very long time now to monitor our servers, and frankly, I wouldn’t be without it, since I far prefer learning about server problems from Simon than from someone who happens to notice at some random point in time.
On the interface side, Simon now includes an Activity log in the Monitor window, replacing the old Notifications Log. It still includes the notifications that a particular test has triggered, but also tracks user-initiated actions like edits, pauses, and so on. Also, the editor windows (where you specify tests, services, notifications, and the like) have traded disclosure triangles for tab buttons; a Summary tab summarizes the settings in all the rest of the tabs.
But the most interesting change in Simon 3.0 is the addition of filters. Previously, Simon could determine whether only a particular portion of a Web page had changed, enabling a test to ignore dynamic or uninteresting aspects of the page (ads, the date and time, etc.). Filters abstract that concept, enabling you to look at multiple portions of a page, search for text using simple text matching or grep, analyze found numbers, and more. Filters can even be combined for additional processing power. And if that’s not enough, a Script filter lets you send the results of a test to an AppleScript, shell, perl, or Python script for further manipulation. Much as I wouldn’t really recommend this, you could configure Simon 3.0 to watch a Web page containing Apple’s stock price, and if it drops below a specified level, send a Twitter direct message to your broker to buy 100 shares.
Among the many other improvements listed in Simon 3.0’s release notes are improved handling of cookies, the capability to pause until you’ve logged into a hotspot portal page, support for current Twitter authentication approaches, and the capability to save logs. New services enable you to test to see if a FileMaker Server is running, and to check which applications on your Mac are using the Internet.
Despite all this power, Dejal Systems has a flexible licensing approach that keeps Simon affordable for those who need only a few tests (and note that anyone who purchased since 1 September 2010 is eligible for a free upgrade). The Bronze level offers 15 tests and costs $49 new, or $19 as an upgrade. The Silver level jumps to 40 tests, $99 new, and $39 upgrade. Gold level provides 100 tests for $199 new or $69 upgrade. And the Platinum level allows unlimited tests for $499 new, or $99 upgrade. Simon 3.0 requires Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard or later and is a 15.6 MB download; a trial version is available.
The definitive Safari 5 guide from long-time Mac expert Sharon Zardetto explores Safari features both new and old and provides the practical advice you need to use Safari to its fullest.Show full article
It was just over seven years ago that Apple made Safari the default Web browser for Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, and in that time it has matured into a standards-compliant, multi-platform, feature-rich powerhouse of a Web browsing application, available to users of Macs, Windows, and Apple’s iOS devices. At various times, and in various venues, Steve Jobs and others have unveiled new Safari features and capabilities, but there was never a really detailed account of all that Safari could do—until long-time Mac expert Sharon Zardetto unveiled her take on the browser last year with her book, “Take Control of Safari 4.”
Now she has tackled the latest version of Safari in the just-released and richly enhanced “Take Control of Safari 5,” which provides even more insights, advice, tips, and tricks for users to take advantage of, learn from, and enjoy.
In its pages, “Take Control of Safari 5” provides the answers to many questions, including:
- How do I load six Web pages at once?
- Now that I’ve loaded six pages, how do I best work with them?
- How do I bookmark a page I want to return to?
- How do I import Firefox bookmarks?
- I’m a pack rat. How should I organize and access my bookmark collection?
- I forgot to bookmark a great page I saw yesterday. How can I find it again?
- How can I read a multi-page Web article without clicking to switch pages?
- How do I find the word “marshmallow” in the text of a huge Web page?
- How do I erase my history to keep my housemate from snooping through it?
- Where does Safari store Web site user names and passwords?
- Help! What do I do when a stored password stops working?
- How do I use Safari to read RSS articles from different sites?
- How do I install the My eBay Manager extension?
- How can I turn Safari into a “clipping service” that grabs RSS articles from different sites when they mention certain topics?
Times have changed since the days when Apple had to rely upon the kindness of Microsoft to provide Mac users with a Web browser. There are now a number of capable browsers for us Mac users to choose from, and sometimes it’s easy to overlook the one browser that comes bundled with every Mac. Sharon’s book, however, reveals just how much Web-browsing goodness we might miss out on if we did.
See who won copies of PDFpenPro 5 in last week’s DealBITS drawing, and if you’re not among them, read on to save 25 percent on Smile’s PDF editing software. Show full article
Congratulations to Catherine Wiles at me.com, David Hori at gmail.com, and Jacquelyn Stoler at sbcglobal.net, whose entries were chosen randomly in the last DealBITS drawing and who each received a copy of PDFpenPro 5, worth $99.95, and a copy of “Take Control of PDFpen 5,” worth $10. Also receiving a copy is David Stoler at sbcglobal.net, for referring Jacquelyn to this DealBITS drawing.
But don’t fret if you didn’t win, since Smile is offering a 25-percent-off discount on PDFpen and PDFpenPro 5 to all TidBITS readers through 19 November 2010. To take advantage of the discount, order from Smile’s store; the discount appears once you’ve added PDFpenPro to your cart. Thanks to the 1,060 people who entered this DealBITS drawing, and we hope you’ll continue to participate in the future!
If you need to monitor servers or watch Web pages for changes, Dejal’s Simon 3.0 is the tool you need. Enter to win a copy of the $499 monitoring tool in this week’s DealBITS drawing! Show full article
It’s annoying when our servers go down for whatever reason, but when they do, I like to find out about it before readers start writing to tell me. In fact, I’d like to know right away, so I can dive into fixing the problem before many people are turned away. For many years now, I’ve used Simon, from Dejal Systems, to watch my servers and notify me in various different ways, including spoken alerts on my Mac, email messages, and Twitter direct messages. But Simon can also take the generalized concept of watching a server and pare it down to watching a specific Web page for changes, and, even more specifically, watching a particular portion of the page for changes. That’s key, since a lot of pages have dynamic elements that change constantly while the page’s main content remains relatively static.
Dejal has just released Simon 3.0; I won’t describe it further here, since you can go read about it at “Simon 3.0 Monitors Servers More Closely” (5 November 2010). Suffice it to say, then, that if you can imagine any situation where you’d want to know if a particular Internet service stops working, or if there’s any change on a Web page (even something like a stock price changing), you’ll want to check out Simon. It’s an extremely powerful and flexible program, and worth exploring.
by Jeff Carlson
Think the new iMovie is just about making movie trailers? Jeff Carlson uncovers 15 hidden or not-quite-obvious features and details about iMovie ’11.Show full article
Apple’s introduction of iMovie ’11 focused largely on the new Movie Trailers feature, audio editing improvements, and One-Step Effects for automating common editing operations. Those are just the highlights, however. Here are 15 features and bits of trivia you may not be aware of about the latest version of iMovie.
View Entire Portrait Photos -- When you add a still photo that’s oriented vertically, iMovie automatically crops it to fit the project’s horizontal aspect ratio, which means you end up with only about one third of the photo visible. Click the new Allow Black button in the Viewer to include the entire photo (with black bars on the edges).
Photos Appear in Viewer -- Speaking of photos, when you click a thumbnail in the Photo browser, the image now shows up in the Viewer so you can get a better look at it. Also, pictures you import sport a green checkmark icon.
Rolling Shutter Fix -- Here’s an addition that could be very helpful, depending on the type of camera you own. Many still cameras capture images using a CMOS sensor, which records every shot in horizontal bands from top to bottom. When used to capture video, that technique can produce an effect called a “rolling shutter”: objects in motion appear rubbery because they’ve moved slightly by the time the sensor records the entire frame.
iMovie can now attempt to compensate for the effect. Double-click a clip, or select it and press the I key, to bring up the Clip inspector. Mark the Stabilization: Smooth Clip Motion checkbox to analyze the clip (if it hasn’t already been analyzed separately). When that’s done, click the Rolling Shutter: Reduce Motion Distortion checkbox, and choose one of the four options from the Amount pop-up menu (Low, Medium, High, Extra High).
This feature isn’t a magical cure-all; Apple says it works best on footage where the camera is panning left or right. But it can fix wobbly video that might otherwise be unusable.
Side by Side Edit -- iMovie ’09 introduced a Picture-in-Picture edit that lets you play two clips at once, with one appearing in a small box in a corner of the screen. iMovie ’11 takes the same idea and adds a Side by Side edit that splits the screen vertically. Drag a clip onto the top of another clip in your project and then choose Side by Side from the action menu that appears.
In the Clip inspector, you can choose whether the added clip appears on the left or right side of the screen, and whether the image slides into frame from the side.
Blue Screen -- Another new edit is Blue Screen, which makes blue areas of a video transparent. iMovie ’09 introduced a Green Screen feature for swapping out backgrounds or other effects—you shoot footage against a green backdrop, then replace the background with an image or other video in iMovie. The problem, of course, is that any green items in the shot, such as clothing, would also become transparent. Blue Screen gives you another option if you happen to shoot things that are often green.
iMovie Drop Box -- Following the lead of iTunes, iMovie now has an iMovie Drop Box folder, located at
~/Movies/iMovie Events. If you want to add a lot of movie files in the Finder, add them to that folder; the next time you launch iMovie, you’ll be asked if you want to import the videos.
Change All Title or Transition Styles -- If you decide to change the style of an existing title, you can drop a new style onto the section of the clip the title occupies (the video clip turns bright blue to indicate you’re affecting the title). Now, when you replace a title style, iMovie asks if you’d like to replace just the one title or all titles in the project. The same option applies to replacing transitions, too.
Quickly Jump to Titles -- When the Advanced Tools option is enabled in iMovie’s preferences, the Comment marker and Chapter marker tools become visible in the upper-right corner of the Project browser. Clicking the downward-facing triangle just to the right of the buttons lists all the markers you’ve placed in your movie, letting you jump to those sections quickly. In iMovie ’11, that list now also includes all titles in the project.
Preview with Stabilization -- After you analyze a clip in the Event browser for stabilization, you usually don’t see the effects of the stabilization until you add the clip to a project. Right-click (or Control-click) the clip in the Event browser and choose Play with Stabilization Preview to see how the stabilized footage will appear.
Movie Trailer Customization -- The movie trailers that you can create are fairly rigid in the number of clips that are included, because the edits are timed to the background music. (You can convert a movie trailer to a regular project and then edit it as you wish, however—choose File > Convert to Project.) Several of the trailer templates offer customization options.
For example, in the Pets trailer, you can choose whether the trailer is about a dog, cat, horse, or monster, with accompanying animal track images based on your selection.
In the Blockbuster, Friendship, and Travel trailers, you can set between two and six cast members; there are five different music tracks to accommodate the changes, all timed correctly.
Made with Morse -- Speaking of trailers, you can choose which studio logo appears at the front. In the Signals Across the Globe trailer, the music that plays in the background is actually Morse code for “Made with iMovie.”
Still More Trailer Trivia -- That spinning globe studio looks awfully familiar, doesn’t it? To avoid any legal entanglements, Apple made sure that you can’t type real movie studio names in the logo sequences, such as Universal or Paramount; the names are replaced with three dashes.
Also, when choosing a trailer style, if you watch the preview for the Action trailer, the character of “Matt” is actually iMovie developer Randy Ubillos.
Quick Mute a Range of Audio -- iMovie ’09 let you mute a clip quickly: with an entire clip selected, press Command-Shift-M to mute the track. That still works in iMovie ’11, but you may not want to mute the entire clip. Instead, select a range in a clip’s audio waveform and press the Delete key to drop the volume level to zero. Pressing delete on a range that’s been edited returns it back to its default.
Cloudy Forecast -- If you add the Blue Marble Globe map, bring up the Clip inspector and enable the Show Clouds option to add a light layer of cloud cover. Also, a Show Route Line/Cities option lets you turn off the Indiana Jones-style travel line and city labels if you wish.
Avoid Skim Drift -- Skimming is an integral part of working within iMovie: whenever your mouse pointer appears in the Project browser, the playhead appears and the current frame is shown in the Viewer. Sometimes, as you’re dragging, your pointer may drift up or down and out of a row (unless you’re being very deliberate about moving your mouse or finger on a trackpad perfectly horizontal). If this happens to you frequently, as it does to me, hold down Option and Shift when skimming. The cursor is held in the middle of the row, even if you drift with the mouse pointer.
More to Discover -- These are just some of the bigger changes in iMovie ’11. There are a lot more tiny details in how the program works, such as animated panel openings and closings, the capability to split detached audio tracks using the contextual menu, and direct import from an iPhone. Although movie trailers have gotten the bulk of the attention, this version of iMovie is a pretty deep update. (For more details, see the “First Look: iMovie ’11” and “iMovie ’11 Review” articles I wrote for Macworld.)
Datacenter professional Chuck Goolsbee reflects on the Xserve, what it was, what it could have been, and why it never got the chance to fulfill its potential.Show full article
Apple’s Xserve was born in the spring of 2002 and is scheduled to die in the winter of 2011, and I now step up before its mourners to speak the eulogy for Apple’s maligned and misunderstood server product.
As a datacenter professional, I’ve been immersed in the world of servers for the past twenty years, and have worked in environments numbering from a handful of servers in a closet, to tens of thousands of servers distributed in multiple large datacenter facilities. I have hands-on experience with every server product that Apple ever shipped (and one that never saw the light of day), as well as servers from other manufacturers, such as Dell, HP, IBM, Sun, and many lesser-known and defunct brands. But this eulogy comes not solely from my experience, since I asked my industry peers via the Macintosh Managers mailing list to share their thoughts on this historic event, along with their collective history with the Xserve and its competitors and predecessors.
The conclusion we come to is that the Xserve never sold as well as it could have. It was hobbled from the start by Apple’s lukewarm support, its basic design, and software that never quite lived up to its promise. Apple says “servers don’t sell,” yet selling servers is exactly what Dell, HP, and others do, in high volume and with good margins. So why did the Xserve have to die?
The Xserve’s appearance in 2002 was a surprise to those of us who manage computer networks. Apple had withdrawn entirely from the server hardware market in 1997 when the company “Steved” the entire server line and laid off the server group. Before that, the Workgroup Server and Network Server product lines, launched in 1993 and 1996 respectively, saw some small success but were a minuscule footnote to Apple’s range of consumer- and professional-focused offerings.
Apple has always had an uncomfortable relationship to what is commonly called “the enterprise”—showing just enough interest to stay involved, but never committing sufficiently to make a real dent in the marketplace, outside of education. Even today, when MacBooks abound in classrooms and corporate offices, hardware emblazoned with the bitten apple trademark is a rare sight inside a datacenter. Apple just doesn’t know how to market and sell to big business, and the Xserve suffered because of this.
Despite Apple’s failings in dealing with the enterprise market, the Xserve started well, because in its early days it had some serious advantages over the competition. The PowerPC G4 processor in the original Xserve had excellent compute power, while consuming very little electricity compared to the Intel chips of the day. In 2003 Apple added the Cluster Node version of the Xserve and a storage array in the form of the Xserve RAID. The Xserve RAID was, at the time, the industry leader in terms of “byte for the buck”—it got you the most storage for the least cost. I saw it being used and deployed by companies that had never considered using Apple hardware before. High-profile compute clusters were being built with Apple hardware and were gaining recognition in the supercomputer realm. Unfortunately for those who purchased these devices, Apple’s support for the Xserve product line peaked right at the start. Things started coming off the rack rails starting in 2004, when the PowerPC G5-based Xserve was introduced.
Hardware Issues -- The Xserve’s basic design was not flexible enough to adapt to changing technology or market needs. Rack-mounted servers are measured primarily in height. Width is fixed by the industry-standard 19-inch rack. (23-inch-wide racks exist, but are rarely deployed outside of telecom facilities.) Racks are divided vertically by multiples of a “rack unit” (abbreviated as RU or, more commonly, U) which is 1.75 inches high. A typical server rack is 42 rack units tall.
Apple chose to design the Xserve to be 1U, meaning 1.75 inches high. While this made sense for compute clusters, it meant that for general purpose needs, the Xserve would always be limited in how many disk drives and features it would have, or how convenient it would be to use and maintain. The main issue with the 1U size was that in order to make the server feature-rich enough to satisfy the majority of customers’ needs, it would have to be outrageously long. The Xserve started out life 28 inches long, and grew 2 more inches over time, leading the industry in overall length of server hardware. Along with limiting features, the long 1U form factor also proved awkward in datacenters, where the Xserve stuck out further than servers from most other manufacturers.
I believe that the Xserve would have been a far more versatile server platform had it been designed from the start with a 2U (3.5-inch-high) chassis for everything other than Cluster Node Xserves. This would have allowed much greater storage and internal RAID options without making the server ridiculously long. Even worse, the PowerPC G5 and Intel CPUs in the later Xserves required more electricity to run and generated more heat, and therefore required more cooling. The Xserve’s original 1U design had to be compromised with large cooling ducts, which required losing a disk drive bay. A 2U chassis design would have enabled Apple to upgrade CPUs, offer far more storage, have redundant power supplies much earlier, maintain cooling, adapt to 2.5-inch drive bays, and provide a full complement of ports on the front of the server.
(Front-mounted ports are vital in today’s datacenters, where the “hot aisles,” meaning the backs of the servers, are usually contained inside an enclosure to partition hot air from the server intakes. People work in the “cold aisles” and avoid the hot ones, hence front-side user ports.)
Other design issues plagued the Xserve:
Disk drive bays that were far too easy to pop out of place accidentally. This was the most commonly cited annoyance of the Xserve in my correspondence with Mac Managers list members, and caused serious unplanned downtime issues for many of them.
A change in disk drive interface design (PATA to SATA) midway through the product line. Every Xserve customer probably bought a “wrong” replacement drive module at least once.
A complicated rack mounting mechanism that changed with almost every iteration of Xserve.
Structural weakness in early Xserves. They tended to bend downward, sagging in the middle, earning the name “Grinning G4.”
Swapped network and power port positions in 2008. This provided the option for dual power supplies, but it threw a huge monkey wrench into cable management in existing racks of Xserves. (Power and network are traditionally managed to be on opposite sides of high-density server racks to minimize potential interference. Changing this causes huge problems for datacenter managers.)
Expensive spare parts that were priced far higher than those from other server manufacturers. Disk drives were noted by many of my peers to be outrageously priced, and hard to find in certain capacities. You can still buy replacement 250 GB drives from HP and Dell, but Apple stopped selling them years ago. This makes managing RAID installations (which need matched drives) very difficult.
Software Issues -- The Xserve shipped with and required Mac OS X Server, and more than anything it was Mac OS X Server’s limitations and frustrations that kept the Xserve behind its rivals over time. However, in the beginning Mac OS X Server had one big advantage: Apple charged no per-user licensing fees. In 2002, that was a disruptive market move and provided ammunition to the switcher movement then underway. When compared to Microsoft’s insanely complex pricing, Apple’s straightforward approach was both refreshing and compelling.
Mac OS X Server does an excellent job of meeting the basic needs of Apple’s traditional customer base in terms of managing user accounts, setting up email, file sharing, and so on. But anyone who tries to extend Mac OS X Server beyond those boundaries quickly discovers its limitations. The problem is that Mac OS X Server’s key benefit was that it provided a graphical interface for the Unix server software running under the hood. Unfortunately, Mac OS X Server’s graphical administration tools have never been fully fleshed out, and system administrators soon learned to bypass them and perform all administration tasks from the command line or with Web-based administration tools. Worse, the graphical and command line approaches were often at odds. Many actions taken in the Server Admin application, for instance, or even upgrades, would overwrite configuration files edited at the command line in ways that weren’t possible from within Server Admin, causing no end of frustration.
This led many to ask, “If I’m better off going into a pure Unix command line administration environment, why should I pay a premium to buy an Xserve and use a slightly strange version of Unix?” Many eventually chose the path of least resistance, switching to standard versions of Linux or FreeBSD on commodity server hardware.
Another big issue is that Mac OS X Server is challenging to integrate into corporate user management systems, especially Microsoft’s Active Directory. Plus, Apple has been slow to allow Mac OS X Server to be virtualized, and places strict limits on how it can be run in a virtualized environment (primarily, that it must run on Apple hardware). These last two items were cited frequently by my peers as huge friction-creating issues when integrating Xserves into large IT environments where directory services and virtualized servers are becoming the norm.
So what began with such promise in May 2002 will finally be laid to rest in January 2011. The Xserve was like that young athlete who blew out his knee before he ever had a chance to compete for an Olympic medal—we’ll never know what it could have become, because it was never allowed to reach its full potential. What was once ground-breaking technology was swiftly outpaced by its competition due to Apple’s neglectful lack of development, along with some initial design flaws in hardware and software that were either slow to be addressed, or continue to nag users to this day.
The Xserve’s demise raises the question of whether Apple is giving up on servers entirely, or just retreating to the Mac Pro (now available in a server configuration) and the Mac mini (which already comes in a server configuration). The latter seems more likely, since while the Mac Pro and Mac mini aren’t appropriate for datacenter use (one is too large and the other too small), they’ll work fine as small office servers. Apple has published a PDF-based Xserve Transition Guide outlining the options. In short, a 12-core Mac Pro is equal to or better than an 8-core Xserve in performance and exceeds it in expandability; the main downsides are the lack of lights-out management and dual redundant power supplies, higher power use, and a vast amount of wasted space in a rack. The Mac mini, on the other hand, lags far behind the Xserve in nearly every way, other than price.
Regardless of what Apple does with servers in the future, for now we can shed a tear for the Xserve—may it rack in peace.
Notable software releases this week include TweetDeck 0.36.1, Mac Pro EFI Firmware Update 1.5, Data Rescue 3.1, Adobe InDesign CS5 7.0.3, Logic Express 9.1.3, PopChar X 5.1, and TwitExport 2.0.1.Show full article
TweetDeck 0.36.1 -- TweetDeck 0.36 is here, and its hallmark feature unleashes a live stream of Twitter posts that can shower down upon you. It’s what Twitter calls “real-time streaming,” and means that new tweets appear in your TweetDeck timelines as they are posted, instead of only showing up when TweetDeck periodically checks for them. (If you prefer periodic updates, an option in TweetDeck’s preferences disables real-time streaming.) Also included in the release is support for Twitter’s forthcoming change to how tweets are stored behind the scenes; all Twitter clients will need to update themselves by the end of November to maintain compatibility with the service. The 0.36.1 release corrects a few bugs from the initial 0.36 version, including the positioning of retweets in the timeline and issues with Facebook posting and “reply all” functionality. (Free, requires Adobe Air)
Read/post comments about TweetDeck 0.36.1.
Mac Pro EFI Firmware Update 1.5 -- Apple has released Mac Pro EFI Firmware Update 1.5, which it recommends for all Mac Pro (mid-2010) models. The update fixes an issue that prevented the firmware password prompt from appearing, along with a more esoteric issue where the Boot Picker wouldn’t appear when you’re connected to an Ethernet network without DHCP enabled. Apple’s instructions for installing the firmware update are to shut down after the installation completes, and then hold down the power button until its light flashes or you hear a long tone. As always, Apple urges you not to unplug, shutdown, restart, or disturb your Mac during the firmware installation process. (Free, 1.96 MB)
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Data Rescue 3.1 -- Yes, everyone should have backups, but not everyone does, and those who find themselves needing to recover data will be pleased to learn that Data Rescue from Prosoft Engineering has been updated to version 3.1. The new version packs in a host of new features and fixes. The software now runs natively in 64-bit on supported Macs, the Workspace and Home Folder workflows are simpler, new file types are now supported, and a new contextual menu offers quicker access to common features. Fixes for recovering certain file types, erasing, and a few crashes are also included. You’ll find complete release notes on MacUpdate. ($99 new, free update, 13 MB)
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Adobe InDesign CS5 7.0.3 -- Folks who spend their days doing layout will be delighted to learn that Adobe has updated InDesign CS5 to version 7.0.3. The new version includes dozens of fixes. Among them: InDesign now works better at recognizing files used by others in a mixed Windows/Mac environment, various crashes are corrected, Search for Help now works properly again, and Photoshop imports work even better. Many more fixes can be found in the release notes at MacUpdate. ($699 new, free update, 24.5 MB)
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Logic Express 9.1.3 -- In what’s sure to be music to the ears of Logic devotees, Apple has updated Logic Express to version 9.1.3. Apple says that the update delivers improved stability and compatibility, specifically for Hyper-Threading. Also included in the update are fixes for various issues related to the recent 9.1.2 update, including crashes, a bug with certain Pedalboard stompboxes, and an incompatibility with TouchOSC Control Surface plug-ins. Helpfully, Apple provides a detailed list of changes. ($199 new, free update, 139.68 MB)
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PopChar X 5.1 -- If you find yourself hunting for unusual Unicode characters, you’re in luck, because Ergonis Software has released PopChar X 5.1 . This latest update of the venerable font utility introduces support for Unicode 6.0. Also included in the new version are better in-software upgrade options, a new contextual menu item for removing recent characters, and the removal of some “irritating” console messages (Ergonis’s term, not ours!). Several fixes are also part of the 5.1 release: problems with inserting characters into Espresso and Filemaker Pro are addressed, as are errant beeps at midnight, a problem after waking your computer from sleep, and a Mac OS X bug that caused issues when copying and pasting certain bitmap pictures. (€29.99 new, free update, 2.3 MB)
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TwitExport 2.0.1 -- With TwitExport, Blue Crowbar Software has renamed and combined the iPhoto2Twitter and Aperture2Twitter export plug-ins, which let you tweet directly from within iPhoto and Aperture, including a selected photo as a link to TwitPic or Mobypicture. (For details, see “iPhoto2Twitter Simplifies Tweeting Photos,” 9 June 2009.) The name change came about with the need to meet Twitter naming requirements when switching to Twitter’s OAuth authentication method a few months ago; Blue Crowbar also took the opportunity to refine the user interface a bit. TwitExport can also now install in either iPhoto (where it also supports sharing movies to Mobypicture) or Aperture. TwitExport works with iPhoto ’08 and ’09, along with the just-released iPhoto ’11; with Aperture, TwitExport requires either version 2.1.4 or 3.0.3 and later. ($5.90 new, free upgrade, 410 KB)
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Three additional bits for you this week: a warning of a daylight saving time bug in iOS 4.1, news of the Hulu Plus service becoming available without an invitation, and a MacVoices podcast in which Jeff Carlson talks about iMovie ’11.Show full article
Three additional bits for you this week: a warning of a daylight saving time bug in iOS 4.1, news of the Hulu Plus service becoming available without an invitation, and a MacVoices podcast in which Jeff Carlson talks about iMovie ’11.
Reset iOS Clock App Alarms after Daylight Saving Time Change -- There’s a bug in iOS 4.1 that causes repeating alarms in the Clock app to trigger an hour later than they should shortly before and after the daylight saving time change. Apple says the bug is fixed in the forthcoming iOS 4.2, but in the meantime, you can fix your alarms by deselecting all days in the repeat interval, saving, and then resetting the alarms for the days you need them.
Hulu Plus Opens Up -- The $9.99-per-month subscription version of Hulu is now open as a preview without a previously required invitation. The Hulu Plus service features full seasons of current and past major NBC, Fox, and ABC shows that stream to an iOS device using a free app, and in HD to a computer’s browser.
Jeff Carlson Talks iMovie ’11 on MacVoices -- Last week Jeff Carlson chatted with Chuck Joiner about what’s new in iMovie ’11 and his TidBITS article, “15 Secrets of iMovie ’11” for the MacVoices podcast. Chuck is always great to talk to, and indulged Jeff when he found himself having to back up and explain things like rolling shutter, CMOS camera sensors, and interlaced video footage.