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Apple TV owners, read on for news of our just-released “Take Control of Apple TV,” by managing editor Josh Centers, but don’t stop there, since Josh also devotes this week’s FunBITS installment to Silver Screen, a simple, Mac-based solution to viewing video in almost any format on your Apple TV. Moving on to the iOS world, we’re joined by Julio Ojeda-Zapata, reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and author of “The Mobile Writer,” for the first of a short series of articles about non-traditional hardware choices from an Apple user’s perspective. This time, he talks about how the iPad Air may be the ultimate tool for the roving writer. Rich Mogull continues the theme with a deep look at the “Bring Your Own Device” trend, and how Apple protects personal information on your iPhone or iPad from your employer (and vice-versa). But don’t feel left out if you’re mostly a Mac user, since Josh also has a neat tip for finding out how often you’ve restarted your Mac. Plus, notable Mac software releases this week include DEVONagent Lite, Express, and Pro 3.7; GraphicConverter 9.1; ReadKit 2.4; CrashPlan 3.6.3; Marked 2.2 (Build 823); PDFpen and PDFpen Pro 6.1.4; and Boot Camp 5.1.

Adam Engst 9 comments

“Take Control of Apple TV” Now Available to Everyone

As promised, our latest streamed book, “Take Control of Apple TV” by TidBITS managing editor Josh Centers, is now available for people other than TidBITS members. From November 2013 through January 2014, we published a chapter each week as a perk for TidBITS members (see “‘Take Control of Apple TV’ Streaming in TidBITS,” 4 November 2013). It was again a success, encouraging more long-time TidBITS readers to support our work, giving us regular deadlines to hit, and eliciting a number of comments and questions that helped us refine the book.

Although it may not be obvious, there was still a lot of work to do after we published the final chapter in TidBITS, ranging from additional full-book edit passes to ensure consistency and clarity, cropping and resizing screenshots to reduce the file size from the original 190 MB, and tweaks to our custom CSS to prevent screenshots, sidebars, and headings from breaking across pages (when possible) in iBooks.

If you’re a TidBITS member and haven’t yet finished reading, you can continue to read all the chapters on our Web site for free, but if you’d prefer a PDF, EPUB, or Mobipocket version that you can read outside of a Web browser, you can pick up a copy for only $7 (that’s 30 percent off the $10 cover price — click through to the Take Control site from your member benefits page to load the coupon).

For those who wanted to wait for the finished product, we think you’ll find the 197-page “Take Control of Apple TV” worth both the wait and $10. Whether you’re considering an Apple TV or you already have one, it helps you take control of Apple’s living room device. You’ll learn how to go beyond watching movies and TV shows to make the Apple TV into the hub of your stereo system, display gorgeous slideshows of your photos, play iPhone and iPad games on the big screen, and more. With it, you can start down the path of cutting the cord (and the monthly bill) from your cable company!

New owners will benefit from the full setup instructions, and even long-time users will likely learn something new when Josh explains how to best control the Apple TV using the included remote, Apple’s Remote app, or even your existing TV remote. You’ll also learn how to customize the icon grid on the main screen, enable parental controls, and make your screen saver look awesome. Josh then focuses on helping you with AirPlay, the Apple technology that lets you beam audio and video from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac to the Apple TV, and lets the Apple TV send audio to compatible speakers anywhere in your house.

When it comes to content, you’ll tour the Apple TV’s built-in video apps — iTunes Store, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, PBS, YouTube, and many more — plus get ideas for which are likely to offer what you want to watch. But you’re not restricted to commercial video — Josh explains how to best view your home movies and any DVDs or Blu-ray discs you own, listen to your music or to iTunes Radio, use Home Sharing to display your photos via the Apple TV, and discover iOS games that are designed for playing via the Apple TV. If you’re feeling geeky, Josh shows you how Plex can bring in even more video content, including free access to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”

Finally, the Apple TV isn’t just about entertainment. Thanks to AirPlay, it makes a great device for giving presentations from a Mac, iPhone, or iPad with Keynote; it’s the perfect accompaniment for a road warrior heading into unfamiliar conference rooms. Josh gives all the details, including a list of what you’ll need to handle any hardware you may encounter.

Take Control of Apple TV” comes with a one-page PDF cheat sheet that we’re also giving away as a free download, so grab a copy to print out and keep by the TV for reference to Apple Remote tricks and AirPlay instructions for less technical family members. Feel free to share the link with anyone else it might help!

Josh Centers 21 comments

Exploring Your Mac’s Restarts via the Command Line

Curious to know when you last had to restart your Mac, or how often you’ve been rebooting? It turns out that there’s a command line invocation to report on that information. What’s the utility of such details? If you’re troubleshooting flaky hardware, perhaps you want to document how often you’re having to restart, or you might want to look up the exact date of a recent kernel panic when working with tech support.

If you’re intimidated by Unix, don’t worry, as this one is as simple as it gets. Open Terminal from /Applications/Utilities, and type last reboot and press Return. You’re presented with a log of all the times you restarted your Mac, back to when the log begins. Mine dates only to October 2013, whereas Adam Engst’s includes 70 restarts since May 2013, and shows several instances when he was restarting repeatedly while trying to isolate a bad DIMM.

Technically, the last command displays the sessions of specified users, so you could also type last shortname — where shortname is the short name of a user account — to see all the times that particular account logged in, or just last by itself to show all sessions. reboot is a pseudo-user, as is shutdown, so last shutdown displays all the logged shutdown events.

Want to create a permanent record of your restarts? Try this command:

last reboot > ~/Desktop/reboot-log.txt

That tells your Mac to run the last reboot command, and then send its output to a new file called reboot-log.txt on your Desktop. And if you wanted to keep recording restarts to this file from the command line, you would instead use:

last reboot >> ~/Desktop/reboot-log.txt

That’s the same command, but with two angle brackets, which specify that the output should be appended to the end of the existing file, instead of overwriting the one that’s already there. Give it a try to see what it does.

While on the subject, as long as you’re in Terminal, try the uptime command to see how long your computer has been running since the last restart.


Julio Ojeda-Zapata 20 comments

iPad Versus MacBook for the Mobile Writer

It takes only a glance at Apple’s quarterly financials to realize that the era of traditional desktop and laptop computers is waning. Last quarter, Apple sold 26 million iPads, over five times more than the 4.8 million Macs shipped in that time period. And that’s with the Mac doing pretty well, growing 19 percent in the last year while global PC sales declined by 10 percent (see “Apple’s Record Q1 2014 Sales Disappoint Wall Street Again,” 27 January 2014).

The rise of the iPad has me thinking: What is the perfect mobile computer for a journalist? Or, more generally, the best device for someone who needs to write, take photos and video, and communicate with colleagues, sometimes in unpredictable, uncomfortable situations and under deadline pressure?

As a tech journalist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, I’m in a good position to ponder this question with loaner hardware always cycling through my home office. Since I get to play with the latest and greatest, but can’t keep any of it, nor afford to buy much of it, I have to focus: what is the best use of my limited personal tech budget in the service of my journalism?

I’ve weighed that question for a quarter century in the news business, and the answer has changed in interesting ways over that time span. I even wrote a book, “The Mobile Writer,” in search of the answer.

Over the years, I’ve dabbled with many kinds of mobile computers. My tech-loaner arsenal has recently included a range of such devices – Chromebooks, the Google notebooks with a Web-centric Chrome OS based on the popular Chrome browser; Android tablets in all shapes and sizes; and Microsoft’s Surface Pro devices that are full Windows PCs as well as iPad-style tablets. I’ll be talking about some of those for future articles in this informal series looking at today’s post-PC hardware from an Apple user’s perspective. But before I reveal my current favorite for mobile productivity, a quick look back.

As a newspaper reporter fresh out of journalism school in the late 1980s, I availed myself of a machine that still is regarded with reverence in some newsrooms: a TRS-80 Model 100, a thick slab of a computer with no tilt-up screen, only a keyboard and narrow LCD panel capable of displaying a whopping eight lines of dim text.

Filing a story from the field — say, at a Michael Jackson concert at the dearly departed Met Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota — required cramming a wired-telephone handset into acoustic couplers for the painstakingly slow transmission to my newsroom.

In the years and decades hence, I experimented with a variety of other devices, including Apple’s Newton with an add-on physical keyboard; a laptop-like, translucent-green Newton cousin called the eMate 300, which I still regard as one of the most beautiful mobile computers ever produced; and a pre-Jobs-era Apple PowerBook that I rented from a computer store and detested due to its stiff keyboard.

In recent weeks I’ve reached for a different kind of computer when heading out of my newsroom on a reporting assignment — the iPad Air. This came as a surprise to me. The iPad, is, at least for me, an unexpected choice for mobile journalism.

Historically, I’ve leaned more toward the Mac than the iPad. Given a hard choice between a MacBook Air and the iPad Air for personal (not professional press) use, I would choose the former every time. And yet, when I’m preparing to head out for field reporting, I’ve ended up picking an iPad almost every time.

The reasons have a good bit to do with Apple’s new “Your Verse” television commercial, which promotes the iPad Air as a primary computer, not a secondary one.

Many have seized on one iconic image in the ad, a shot of a videographer who has mounted an iPad Air on a tripod and added other video-recording accoutrements, such as a boom mike. Some have scoffed at this. Just because you’re able to harness an iPad in this way, such folks sputter, doesn’t mean you should do so with far-better video cameras available.

When I saw that image, though, I was reminded of a reporting gig in 2006 when my digital camera conked out and I had no image-capturing device other than a MacBook (one of the beloved matte-black ones). I was reduced to the awkwardness of aiming the inner-lid iSight camera at my subjects to take tech-blog photos using Photo Booth. (This was all the more embarrassing since the particular gig was the opening of an Apple store at Ridgedale Center in Minnetonka, Minnesota.) I got the hang of it after a few minutes, and sort of enjoyed it. The experience even yielded a treasured photo, taken by someone else, of me with the MacBook held aloft in the middle of the throng.

Still, it wasn’t an experience I’d care to repeat.

Fast-forward to last year, when I found myself in almost exactly the same predicament: my smartphone for blog-picture posting had failed, and I had to find a replacement camera quickly. I happened to have an iPad with me, and it did nicely. Yes, I looked and felt like a dork pointing such a big slab at my subjects to take pictures and shoot video, but it was a major step up from using a laptop with only an inner-lid camera. It was appropriate, too, since this also was an Apple-retail event – the debut of a relocated, larger Apple store in the Southdale Center mall in Edina, Minnesota.

The iPad Air isn’t just for capturing images; it also does a decent job of editing them. Apple’s iPad flavors of iPhoto and iMovie are pretty good, which makes an iPad a simple but capable mobile editing studio. A wide assortment of third-party apps augment my picture-editing capabilities (though certainly not to a Photoshop level). I have dabbled with dozens of the apps, and settled on a few gems.

For image editing, I have gravitated towards Photo Editor by Aviary, Autodesk’s PixlrExpress+, Adobe’s PS Express and Google’s Snapseed – partly because all are nifty apps, and partly because Web-app versions of these exist via my preferred desktop browser, Google’s Chrome, which creates consistency for me. Tap Tap Tap’s Camera+ is also a part of my photo-editing kit in its iPad-native flavor, since I also use the iPhone variant.

I don’t dabble as much with third-party iPad video-editing apps, but I regard Google’s YouTube Capture as essential for light editing as well as uploading.

While such photography and videography work has taken up more of my reporting time, I remain primarily the writing kind of journalist and require hardware suited for that purpose. In this regard, the iPad Air has performed splendidly when outfitted with an add-on physical keyboard.

I’ve experimented with a wide array of keyboard covers and keyboard cases for the iPad Air. I settled on Logitech’s $149.99 FabricSkin Keyboard Folio, an accessory I was sure I’d hate (a “fabric-skin keyboard”? Really?) but have come to love.

The folio-style case includes an integrated mechanical keyboard with a membrane-style protective overlay, the reason I assumed I would detest it. It turns out the keyboard has a terrific feel for touch typing, even with the membrane, and I’m delighted with it. It’s on the cramped side compared to traditional keyboards, as all iPad keyboard cases tend to be, but I’ve adapted. I like how the iPad hitches firmly to the case yet is straightforward to remove, and how the combo makes for a trim package with a pleasingly rubbery
exterior when closed for transport.

Writing apps for the iPad are legion, too, and exist in a range of categories to satisfy any goal or taste. My favorites, which emphasize online publishing and collaboration, include Evernote, Google Drive and Blogsy. I have an entire chapter devoted to these and other apps in “The Mobile Writer,” which expands on this article’s thesis that the iPad is a more-than-adequate computer for a professional
journalist or any other kind of writer.

Once fitted with the necessary add-on hardware and software, the iPad Air blended seamlessly into my reporting and writing routine. This includes typing and organizing interview notes via Evernote, and writing and filing stories via Google Drive. Since versions of these apps exist for virtually all other computing platforms, I often found myself bouncing from device to device — Chromebooks, Android tablets, Surface computers, Windows PCs, my beloved home iMac — without losing focus on research notes and articles in progress. The iPad Air is my preferred mobile device in this regard.

The iPad is a great device for other work tasks, including social media and online research, that I won’t detail here. Suffice it to say the iPad stands up well to the MacBook Air in most respects — albeit with a very different user experience — and it rarely feels like a compromised device.

I found myself unexpectedly on deadline while driving one day, and rushed into a Caribou Coffee to work. I flipped open the iPad case, fired up Skype to do interviews via my Apple EarPods as I tapped out notes in Evernote (while appreciating how quiet the membrane-clad keyboard is). I then launched Google Drive to pound out my copy and clicked the Share button to invite my editor to join the editing session via his desktop PC at the office. It all felt perfectly natural.

On another occasion, I attended a pair of events over the course of an evening with the iPad Air at my side. First, I live-tweeted Ignite Minneapolis, an evening of five-minute-long speeches on a broad array of topics in a grand auditorium. On that night, I availed myself of a different, also-awesome keyboard case from Belkin, the Qode Ultimate Wireless Keyboard and Case (for the full TidBITS review, see “Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case Makes iPad Air a Fair Travel Computer,” 11 December 2013). Either the Logitech or the Belkin case works
well on a lap.

Later that night, I arrived at Microsoft’s only retail store in Minnesota, at the vast Mall of America in Bloomington, to see gaming fanatics get their hands on the new Xbox One console for the first time. This session was more about shooting photos than writing, with the iPad as my primary picture-taking and image-editing device, and the means for uploading my pictures via Google’s Google+ app. Shoot, edit, upload – I repeated the
sequence again and again as I wandered around the packed store.

In the pre-iPad days, an Apple laptop would have been my device of choice for all of these mobile reporting scenarios, but I’d never pick a MacBook Air over the iPad Air today.

The iPad Air is smaller and lighter than the MacBook Air, even when inside the Logitech keyboard case, and it is less expensive, too – though perhaps not by much in certain scenarios. Between needing one of the cellular-capable models for filing stories while out and about, and wanting enough storage for video, I could be looking at $829 for the 64 GB iPad Air plus $150 for the Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard Folio, bringing the total cost to $979 – just under the $999 price of the 11-inch MacBook Air.

That’s why I’ll stick with the loaner iPad from work for now (while I have it) rather than invest in one of my own. But fellow writers with bucks to spare should shake off the preconception that a laptop is the only way to go for on-the-go journalism, and give the iPad Air serious consideration. It is the do-it-all mobile-reporting computer.

Rich Mogull 5 comments

How Apple Protects Your iPhone from Your Employer

In the deep dark past, when you used technology at work, you used what your employer gave you. In recent years, that has started to change, with the emergence of a concept called “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) where employees use their own hardware and the IT infrastructure of the organization adapts. Both the rise of BYOD and the ways IT has adjusted are in large part due to Apple’s influence, as I’ll explain.

But first, so you have a sense of what it was like until recently, here’s what I went through a mere 7 years ago. My mobile phone, BlackBerry (yes, I juggled both), and my computer were all owned and managed by my employer (Gartner). While someone who was non-technical might have been well served by having everything provided, it was frustrating for me, since I was restricted to approved devices, and they rarely matched what I would have chosen for myself. That said, Gartner was actually pretty good, giving me a decent choice of dumb phones and a relatively up-to-date BlackBerry. My laptop was an IBM (later, Lenovo) ThinkPad, replaced every 3 to 4 years.

Not only did I not get to choose my devices, but I also had no control over how they were configured. I could install most of the software I wanted on the ThinkPad, although some restrictions forced me to keep a particular configuration. For example, I made sure to eat lunch at noon every Wednesday when the antivirus scan kicked off and my laptop became unusable.

Having more of a technical bent than many of my colleagues, I managed to remove most of the corporate management and tune the computer to my needs. Then, after Apple released the first Intel-based MacBook Pro, I bought one for myself, virtualized my work computer and moved it to the MacBook Pro, and flaunted my newfound freedom at work events. I’m still not entirely certain how I managed to get away with that.

Since those days, we’ve seen an explosion of employee-owned devices in the workplace — hence the “Bring Your Own Device” phrase. Much of this was driven first by Apple’s Macs and iOS devices, later joined by Android-based smartphones and tablets, along with other platforms. Knowledge workers in particular expect more freedom to choose and configure the tools they need for their jobs.

Five years ago when I walked into a major corporation for a meeting, I generally had the only Mac in the room. These days Macs are a common sight, as are a range of smartphones. Sometimes companies allow employees to bring their own devices to enable them to enhance their productivity; at other times, having employees provide their own hardware is more seen as a way to cut costs.

As great as BYOD is for most employees, who hate having to carry and manage multiple mobile phones and laptops, it’s often a hassle for the IT department. Although many IT people personally appreciate the freedom to use whatever device one wants, such freedom drastically complicates support, compliance, auditability, and security. The compromise has been to force device management onto employee-owned devices through a variety of techniques, many of which degrade the native device user experience.

Apple’s BYOD Philosophy — With the release of iOS 7, Apple now divides business customers into two categories. There is BYOD, and there are enterprise-owned devices, with nearly completely different security and management models for each, defined by ownership of the device.

In Apple’s BYOD model, users own their iOS devices, their employers own work data and apps on the devices, and the user experience never suffers. Users allow the enterprise space on their devices, and the enterprise allows the user access to enterprise resources. No dual personas. No virtual machines. It’s a seamless experience, with data and apps intermingled, yet sandboxed apart from each other across the personal/work divide. The split is so clear that it is actually difficult for the enterprise to implement supervised mode on an employee-owned device, and employee data is always protected from IT department interference or snooping. This model is far from perfect today, with one major gap (AirDrop), but iOS 7 is a clear
expression of this direction.

In contrast, when the enterprise owns the iOS devices, Apple changes gears to give absolute control to the IT department, even down to the experience of setting up a new device. Organizations can remove or degrade features as necessary, but the devices will, to the extent that’s allowed, still provide the complete iOS experience.

Here are a few examples to highlight the different models.

On employee-owned devices:

  • The enterprise sends a Configuration Profile that the user can choose to accept or decline.

  • If the user accepts the Configuration Profile, certain minimal security can be required, such as passcode settings.

  • The user gains access to corporate email, but she can’t move messages to other email accounts without permission.

  • The enterprise can install managed apps, which can be set to allow data to flow only between them and managed accounts. These can be internal enterprise apps, or enterprise licenses for apps from the App Store. If the enterprise pays for it, the enterprise owns it.

  • Apart from the corporate email and enterprise-managed apps, the user otherwise controls all her personal accounts, apps, and information on the device.

  • All this is done without exposing any user data (like personal email or an iTunes Store account) to the enterprise.

  • If the user opts out of enterprise control (which can be done at any time), she loses access to all enterprise features, accounts, and apps. The enterprise can also erase its footprint remotely, whenever it wants (such as in the event of a layoff).

  • The device remains tied to the user’s iCloud account, including Activation Lock, to prevent anyone, even the enterprise, from taking the device and using it without permission.

  • However, the enterprise can still initiate a remote device wipe, making it important for the user to keep independent backups.

On enterprise-owned devices:

  • The enterprise controls the entire provisioning process, potentially from even before the box is opened (if the device was purchased through a special Apple program).
  • When the user first opens the box and turns the provided device on, the entire experience is managed by the enterprise, even down to which setup screens display.

  • The enterprise controls all apps, settings, and features of the device. That includes even disabling the camera or restricting network settings to prevent access to external Wi-Fi networks.

  • The device can never be associated with a user’s iCloud account for Activation Lock; the enterprise owns it.

This model is quite different from how security and management was handled on iOS 6, and runs deeper than most people realize. While there are gaps, especially in the BYOD controls, it’s safe to assume these will slowly be cleaned up over time following Apple’s usual iterative improvement process. The big hole today is that the enterprise can’t restrict AirDrop or certain other sharing options through which data could leak off a device.

How Apple Enables Device Management — There are five key features that Apple uses to implement these two models of device ownership:

  • Supervised Mode enables an organization to control an iOS device completely. It lets the IT department manage all settings, what apps can be installed and run, what kinds of networks can be accessed, and even which screens you see when setting up a new device. This is the option for enterprise-owned devices, and is used for everything from iPhones provided to employees to iPads used by classrooms or in store displays. Supervised mode can be triggered by connecting the device to a Mac and using the Apple Configurator utility, or by purchasing the device through a special Apple program. Once enabled, supervised mode can be
    disabled only by reconnecting it to the same Mac and turning it off with Apple Configurator.

  • A Configuration Profile is a small file placed on an iOS device to manage certain settings. It’s the hook an organization uses to tie a device into its Mobile Device Management (MDM) system, using some standard connection methods provided by Apple (push notifications to trigger updates, and a Mobile Device Management API for managing settings). The Configuration Profile is what allows an employee-owned device to access enterprise email and other resources, and in exchange it can enforce certain settings (like the aforementioned passcode requirement). But Apple never exposes any of a user’s personal information, apps, or accounts back through this channel, and the user can remove the profile at any time (and thus
    lose access to work resources).

  • Apple’s Volume Purchase Program enables organizations to purchase apps, books, and other iTunes content in volume, and then hand licenses out to employees. When a license is given to an employee-owned device, Apple ties together the user’s personal Apple ID with the organization’s licenses so users can download the apps from the App Store directly, without their personal information being permanently tied to work, or otherwise exposed. Alternatively, MDM can automatically push these apps onto a device, so the user doesn’t need to install everything manually. When you leave a job and the enterprise reclaims its license, you have a period of time to purchase your own version of the app before it is removed
    from your device.

  • Managed Accounts are your work email, calendar, and contacts accounts. Although these accounts are still accessed using the native Mail, Calendar, and Contacts apps, the enterprise, using MDM and the Configuration Profile, can lock these accounts down so you can’t move email messages or other content into folders of your personal accounts. It can also restrict the apps in which you can open email attachments to Managed Apps.

  • Managed Apps are apps licensed on your device through the Volume Purchasing Program, or apps written by and distributed directly by the enterprise outside the App Store. An enterprise can designate Managed Apps and then restrict them to exchange data only with other Managed Apps, or with Managed Accounts. Managed Apps can also pull down configuration settings for both mundane options and those that the enterprise cares about deeply, such as tying the app back to an enterprise server.

Here’s how it all fits together. A enterprise-owned device is fully managed and restricted. That’s entirely appropriate for many types of organizations.

But when it’s not, when BYOD is in play, the employee accepts a Configuration Profile, which establishes certain device settings. These may include access to a work mail server and apps licensed by the organization. The organization can then keep all work-related material within a sandbox of a sort, allowing it to be accessed only by Managed Accounts and Managed Apps. The device owner has to opt into this, can opt out any time, and doesn’t have to worry about the IT department being able to snoop in personal accounts or data.

This may sound obvious and sensible, but it’s a new development with iOS 7. Previously, the options were quite different. The organization could always fully manage a device, and some tried to force employees into handing over control of their personal devices since there were no other good management options. As an alternative, an employee could still install a Configuration Profile that would implement organizational settings, but there was no way for the organization to restrict which apps accessed corporate data, and many settings could significantly degrade the iOS user experience. Some enterprises instead installed custom apps to replace Mail and lock down corporate data, but this irritated many users who preferred the native

With BYOD in iOS 7, Apple split the difference. Organizations can protect their property, employees can use their own devices, and everyone enjoys the full iOS experience, with no compromises. It’s a new way to look at BYOD, and one I suspect will be quite popular with both users and IT departments.

If you want more technical details on how this works, take a look at my new whitepaper Defending Data on iOS 7.

Josh Centers 9 comments

FunBITS: Silver Screen Brings Your Video to Apple TV

Any time we’re approached by a new sponsor here at TidBITS, I like to check out their products, because I don’t want us to be recommending anything we wouldn’t use ourselves. I also wrote a book, the just-released “Take Control of Apple TV,” that’s intended to be the ultimate guide to Apple’s puckish home entertainment hub. So when Page Zero Software contacted us about sponsoring TidBITS, I was curious to check out their $19 Silver Screen app, which lets you easily play video from your Mac on your Apple TV.

On the one hand, thanks to AirPlay Mirroring, any app that plays video can nominally do this. On the other hand, straight AirPlay Mirroring of a full-screen video app often stutters or suffers other performance problems, and the user experience of having to control the video from the Mac, which may be in another room, isn’t good. That’s why, in “Take Control of Apple TV,” I initially focused on Plex and its PlexConnect hack for sending video through the Apple TV’s Trailers app. Plus, Plex is powerful, flexible, free, and has a lot of community and third-party support. But with great power
comes great complexity, to the point of hammering out daemon-launching invocations at the command line.

I hadn’t run across Silver Screen previously, but it differentiates itself from the crowd of video apps by focusing on feeding video to the Apple TV. What impressed me most about Silver Screen is its simplicity. Install it, launch it, and it quietly sits in your menu bar, serving video to your Apple TV.

By default, Silver Screen looks for videos in the Movies folder in your home directory, so if you keep your videos there, you have nothing else to configure. If you keep them elsewhere, click the icon in the menu bar, choose Preferences, and select your preferred directory in the Media Directory drop-down menu. You can also add folder aliases to your media directory if you don’t want to keep everything in one place.

Silver Screen’s front end is a simple Web interface that you can access from your Mac, iPhone, iPad, or any other device with a modern Web browser. To load it the first time, click its menu bar icon and choose Open Media Browser, which opens Silver Screen in your default Web browser, showing a list of all your video files. Be sure to bookmark the URL on all your devices for easy access — you can even make it into a Home screen icon on an iPhone or iPad.

Click or tap a video file, and Silver Screen sends it to your Apple TV via AirPlay. That’s it, no other controls — you interact with the movie with your Apple Remote (or the iOS Remote app or a Bluetooth keyboard), just like you would native Apple TV content. If you load a movie that you didn’t finish watching, Silver Screen gives you the option of picking up where you left off.

What if you have multiple Apple TVs? Click the gear icon in the upper right of the Web interface and select your preferred Apple TV.

What’s ingenious about Silver Screen is that it AirPlays directly from your Mac, so it’s not dependent on an iPhone you might use to control it. Lock the iPhone’s screen, play another video, or switch apps, and nothing you do will interfere with your movie. In that regard, Silver Screen reminds me a bit of Google’s Chromecast, which uses your mobile device solely as a remote control. Silver Screen also keeps your Mac from falling asleep automatically, so you can always access your content. (You can still schedule sleep, or enable it manually while Silver Screen is running.)

So what can you play with Silver Screen? It supports just about any video container you can think of, including any in this serving of alphabet soup: AVI, MKV, MOV, MP4, M4V, WMV, FLV, VOB, M2V, DivX, F4V, MK3D, MPG, MPEG, M2P, PS, TS, M2TS, MTS, Ogg, and WebM. Silver Screen also supports 5.1 surround sound, multiple language tracks, and subtitles — both embedded and in SRT format.

While Silver Screen does what it promises perfectly, I’d love to see it add Web channels like Plex, so I could use my Apple TV to watch content from TWiT, South Park Studios, Amazon Instant Video, Comedy Central, and others. For me, that’s the main draw of Plex, and if Silver Screen had that, I’d never fuss with PlexConnect again.

For $19, Silver Screen offers an easy way to play all of your videos on the Apple TV, regardless of format, and frees you from having to fool with iTunes for those it can handle. Thanks to Page Zero Software for their support of TidBITS and for introducing me to Silver Screen in time to cover it in the final release of “Take Control of Apple TV!”

TidBITS Staff No comments

TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 17 February 2014

DEVONagent Lite, Express, and Pro 3.7 — DEVONtechnologies has updated all three editions of its DEVONagent research software (Lite, Express, and Pro) to version 3.7. DEVONagent Pro receives a new scanner plug-in that not only searches Twitter but also scans found pages for links containing Twitter IDs and reports them. Additionally, the Pro edition improves how it highlights selected items in lists, fixes minor issues with URL handling with regard to OS X 10.9 Mavericks, and fixes the handling of filenames that begin with a tilde (~) by various Automator actions. All three editions also
receive an updated Tube scanner (which brings back compatibility with YouTube), updated search sets (including “Marketing,” “Macintosh News (Latest),” and “Macintosh News (More)”), updated plug-ins (the JSTOR and SEC references and the Technorati blog), and improvements to the French localization. (All updates are free. DEVONagent Lite, free, release notes; DEVONagent Express, $4.95 new, release notes; DEVONagent Pro, $49.95 new with a 25 percent discount for TidBITS
, release notes)

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GraphicConverter 9.1 — Lemkesoft has released GraphicConverter 9.1 with a number of new and updated features. The venerable graphic conversion and editing utility adds the capability to attach images to email via a new menu item, anti-aliasing to the pen tool, the capability to extract images from a PDF, curve support for grayscale images, and pressure support for the pen tool. The user interface also receives a number of changes, including the addition of options to display a larger color label and color mode of an image in the browser, new Browse Copy and Browse Google Drive menu items, and added
Save, Undo, and Redo icons to the toolbox. The update also improves animated GIF support (with more consistent transparency on import and export), improves rename options for extensions, and fixes a possible bug with selections and core image filters. ($39.95 new from the Lemkesoft Web site or from the Mac App Store, 222 MB, release notes).

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ReadKit 2.4 — Webin has released ReadKit 2.4, a major update to the RSS client and read-later app with improvements to keyboard navigation and the introduction of a new sharing service. With version 2.4, most keyboard shortcuts can be customized under the Shortcuts tab of Preferences (this Webin blog post offers an explanation of the new shortcuts). ReadKit also adds support for the Buffer sharing service, which enables you to share links to your social media connections immediately or schedule them to appear throughout the day
or week. The update also adds the capability to highlight code blocks, brings more granular preference settings on a per-account basis, adds a customizable sharing toolbar, improves sync speed of the built-in RSS engine, and improves compatibility with OS X 10.9 Mavericks. Unfortunately, ReadKit 2.4 drops support for 10.7 Lion. ($6.99 new from the Mac App Store, free update, 4.0 MB)

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CrashPlan 3.6.3 — Code42 Software has released CrashPlan 3.6.3 with a simplified installation process for new users thanks to the inclusion of the Java Runtime Environment (version 1.7.0_45) when installing on Mac OS X 10.7.3 Lion and later. Previously, you were prompted to install Java separately, now that Apple doesn’t include Java by default. The update also increases the Java heap space allocation to 1024 MB for better performance, ensures that network interface exclusions and wireless network exclusions are properly obeyed, provides more control over CrashPlan’s unlimited version retention, enables
those who use the 448-bit encryption + password security scheme to set a challenge question and answer, and updates translations. There’s no need to download CrashPlan 3.6.3 manually, as the app should upgrade automatically in the coming days if it hasn’t already — the version number is displayed prominently in the app’s Settings > Account screen. (Free with a 30-day trial of CrashPlan’s online backup service, 50 MB, release notes)

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Marked 2.2 (Build 823) — Brett Terpstra has released Marked 2.2 (Build 822), which adds a couple of new features to the Markdown previewer. According to this blog post, the latest build improves how Marked handles opening external files that aren’t recognized (suggesting to open in a default app instead of just providing an error message), asks whether you want to open links in the current window or a new one, and improves how it handles YAML (the “human friendly data serialization standard for all programming
languages”). Marked also now features MathJax configuration updates, syntax highlighting improvements, and a fix for MultiMarkdown metadata like “Base Header Level” and “Quotes Language” not being recognized. A quick update to Build 823 fixes a minor bug. ($11.99 new, free update, 16.3 MB, release notes)

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PDFpen and PDFpen Pro 6.1.4 — Smile has released version 6.1.4 of its PDFpen and PDFpenPro all-purpose PDF editing apps, both of which receive a fix for an “elusive” memory-related CGPDF crash during printing. Both apps also improve responsiveness when drawing on a tablet by reducing the frequency of drawing updates, fix a bug that prevented the Editing Bar’s color selector from updating, increase the maximum number of pages to 999 when creating a PDF from HTML, and resolve an issue with displaying highlighting on rotated pages. ($59.95/$99.95 new with a 20
percent discount for TidBITS members, 52.5/53.3 MB, release notes)

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Boot Camp 5.1 — Apple has released two version 5.1 updates to its Boot Camp virtualization software, both of which add support for the 64-bit versions of Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1. Boot Camp 5.1.5640 is for those with MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac mini, and iMac models released in mid to late 2013, while Boot Camp 5.1.5621 is for all models of the Mac Pro, MacBook Pro models with Retina displays released in early 2013 (as well as all previous models), and all other MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac mini, and iMac models released prior to 2013. (Free, 883 MB)

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ExtraBITS for 17 February 2014

In ExtraBITS this week, TUAW offers some “tips” for photographing leaked Apple products, Macworld’s Dan Moren shows you how to replace a MacBook Air’s SSD, the Fab Four arrive on Apple TV, and Horace Dediu analyzes Apple’s download business.

Tips for Photographing Leaked Apple Products — What if you got your hands on a leaked Apple prototype, like the iPhone 6, the iPad Pro, or the Apple TV smartwatch, and you wanted to show it off to the Internet? With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Mike Wehner offers some helpful tips at TUAW to make those verboten photos look their best. He recommends never taking a photo of a complete product, obscuring as much of the device as possible, and shaking the camera to add a little pizzazz.

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How to Replace a MacBook Air’s SSD — When the built-in SSD in his MacBook Air failed, Macworld’s Dan Moren decided to try replacing it himself (surprisingly, at the suggestion of an Apple Genius). The process was easier than he thought, taking only 20 minutes. He explains what he did, and walks you through how to restore your data with SuperDuper, including a pointer to a handy utility that restores Mac OS X’s Recovery Partition.

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The Beatles Come Together, Right Now… on Apple TV — For a limited time, Apple has added a channel to the Apple TV for The Beatles, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the band’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The channel features video of the original performance, and links to purchase Beatles albums.

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Running the Numbers on the Apple Download Empire — Analyst Horace Dediu has examined Apple’s software and service business and found that if it were its own company, it would rank 130th in the Fortune 500 — above pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. Dediu estimates that Apple gave up $350 million in revenue in the last quarter from making Mavericks and iWork free. Despite that, Apple is bringing in more revenue than ever from iTunes and the App Store, with gross revenues of nearly $7 billion per quarter.

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