We follow up last week’s articles about Boot Camp and virtualization with a collection of hard-won tips that will help you experiment with Windows XP safely and efficiently. Also this week, Matt Neuburg reviews the NovaMind mind-mapping application, and Adam extracts useful lessons from a week of hardware troubles. In the news, Apple released Aperture 1.1 and Apple Remote Desktop 3, and since TidBITS marks its 16th anniversary this week, we’re taking off for vacation. Look for our next issue 01-May-06!
TidBITS 16th Anniversary Vacation — This week marks the 16th anniversary of TidBITS, which we’re celebrating with a West Coast vacation that will also feature a dinner with the Seattle-based members of the staff, along with a visit to our Xserve at digital.forest to install Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger Server. We can’t guarantee we’ll have (or want to use!) Internet access for much of the trip, so don’t expect quick responses to email while we’re away. Nevertheless, we’re packing a slew of technology so hopefully I’ll have plenty to write about once we’re back. With all that, we’re taking next week off, so look for our next issue on 01-May-06! [ACE]
Aperture 1.1 Gains Intel Support, Improvements — Apple has released Aperture 1.1, an update that enables the photo editing and workflow tool to run on Intel-based Macs, fixes bugs, and boosts performance. The new version improves its controls for handling RAW-formatted images, and adds a Color Meter tool and the capability to specify pixel resolution when exporting or sending images to Photoshop. With this update, Apple also dropped the price of Aperture from $500 to $300 in its continued vigorous effort to attract professional photographers who are now tempted by Adobe’s Lightroom beta and the long-standing features found in Photoshop. People who bought Aperture 1.0 before 13-Apr-06 can download a coupon worth $200; licensed users of Aperture 1.0 Academic can receive a $100 coupon. The Aperture 1.1 Update is a 32 MB update via Software Update or as a stand-alone download. [JLC]
Apple Remote Desktop 3 Released — Apple released Apple Remote Desktop 3 last week, the third major release of the company’s remote control and management software. With Apple Remote Desktop 3, Apple focused on adding features that take advantage of new capabilities in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, including Dashboard, Automator, and Spotlight.
A new Dashboard widget provides an observation view of remote screens; over 30 Automator actions are available for automating repetitive system administration tasks; and you can use Spotlight to search across multiple client Macs running Tiger. Other new features include much-requested items that help Apple Remote Desktop compete better with Netopia’s Timbuktu Pro remote control software, including drag and drop of files and folders between local and remote computers, copy and paste between local and remote computers, significantly faster file copying, and AES 128-bit encryption for secure communication. In terms of desktop management, Apple Remote Desktop 3 now offers system status indicators that display the overall health of remote systems, AutoInstall for staging software for installation on mobile systems, Curtain Mode for hiding the actions of the remote controller, a persistent Task History and Task Templates to save and replicate frequently performed tasks, Application Usage and User History reports to monitor software compliance policies, and Smart Computer Lists for dynamically managing sets of systems based on specified criteria. Unfortunately still missing is the capability to change the ports the program uses; this feature would make it easier to use Apple Remote Desktop to connect to multiple computers behind a NAT gateway using port mapping.
Apple Remote Desktop 3 costs $300 for managing up to 10 systems and $500 for an unlimited client license; educational prices are $150 and $300 for the two licenses (there is no special upgrade pricing). Apple says the program "is intended to run on" (although the press release doesn’t say "requires") any Mac running Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later; that implies to me that it may work on earlier versions, but that Apple hasn’t tested such systems. It’s a universal binary for those using Intel-based Macs. [ACE]
NovaMind, the flagship mind-mapping program of the Australia-based NovaMind Software Pty Ltd., has recently attained a new maturity with the release of its version 3. This is extraordinarily impressive software, proving once again that you don’t have to be a large company – in fact, it’s probably better not to be – in order to produce an application that’s original, interesting, useful, and attractive.
A mind map is a drawing, connecting words and images that radiate ultimately from a single central idea. As someone who has been viewing and drawing mind maps all his life (since they are, in essence, just the kind of thing any decent teacher is constantly developing on the blackboard while talking), I was surprised to discover that someone thinks he has invented them and has even made the term "mind map" a registered trademark, and has made selling them, as a technique for remembering, learning, planning, and presentation, the basis of a big business.
Now, as TidBITS readers already know, my tool of choice for arranging ideas is the outliner, with variations; and a mind map seems to me, at first blush, merely a variation on an outliner – and a poor one at that, distracting the eye with colors and pictures and squiggles, and crowding the hierarchy into the clutter of a single canvas. But despite my personal reservations over the mind map hype, I do also understand that some people simply swear by them; for those to whose mental makeup a traditional outliner, with its rigid hierarchy and primarily verbal logic, feels cold and restrictive, a mind map’s warm visual and associative appeal can open those same mental doors of organization using, as it were, a different key.
So perhaps mind maps are not, for personal use, my natural cup of tea (though, as I say, I’ve often covered blackboards with them while tying ideas together for my students); but in that case, the fact that I’m so struck by NovaMind – the fact, indeed, that NovaMind makes me reconsider my prejudices – testifies all the more strongly as to how stimulating this software is.
Drawing On Both Sides of the Brain — NovaMind, then, is a drawing program, specialized for mind maps in much the same way as OmniGraffle is specialized for diagrams. To some extent, the comparison is an apt one: with NovaMind, you are placing objects into the drawing which then stay connected to other objects no matter where you move them, just as in an OmniGraffle diagram. NovaMind’s interface makes heavy use of floating inspector windows for seeing and setting the characteristics of a selected object in much the same way as OmniGraffle – which is no coincidence, as NovaMind uses the same inspector window code as OmniGraffle (the wonderful Omni Frameworks).
Every object, consisting effectively of some text (which, according to the "laws" of mind-mapping, should be kept short), is created as either the child or the sibling of some other object – except, of course, for the original central object, which is always "just there" and can have only children. NovaMind provides automatic assistance with object placement and rearrangement, if you like, so you can brainstorm rapidly without attending to how things look. When you do attend to this, though, you get lots of interesting ways to add interest, variation, and expressiveness to an object.
The text can sit on a line, which can be straight or wavy, or inside a rectangle or ellipse. The text, and whatever it sits on or inside, can have color and a shadow, and can incorporate a picture, which you can import from just about anywhere (and NovaMind comes with a big collection of graphics). Lines (including connecting lines) can have different thicknesses and dot patterns. An object or connected group of objects can be surrounded with an automatic shape, for emphasis and isolation. An object can display an "adornment" (a little icon that might signify the object’s type). An object can have any number of free-floating graphics and text boxes attached to it; they need show no visible connection to the object, but when you move the object, they move with it. And you can even draw a link line between any two objects, including attached graphics, perhaps to show a connection of ideas that cuts across the hierarchy.
Then there is a whole boatload of features letting you can use your mind map in interesting ways. An object can have a checkbox, a start/end date, a priority, and even a little pie chart showing the percentage accomplished. Also, an object can be assigned any number of "resources," which are entities global to the mind map. Thus, a mind map can be a to-do list or a rudimentary project manager (and you can export from NovaMind to Merlin, a dedicated project manager). Objects can acquire automatic numbering, as in an outline. An object can have longer text attached to it, in a separate window, making NovaMind a writer’s tool; there is even a specialized version of this feature, designed for screenwriters. Sections of the map can be hidden or shown. An object can have a hyperlink, which can be to a URL, a file on disk, or to a specific object in another mind map.
When I asked about complete export to pure XML, I was amazed to learn that a NovaMind document is in fact XML – but neither a text editor nor NovaMind itself will give you direct access to this XML! That’s because the XML is "tarred and gzipped" (those are Unix terms of art); so, you can access the XML from the command line, but only if you know the secret. Since, from the XML, you can effectively create your own export transforms, it would be nice if revealing the underlying XML were a feature of the program.
A List of Laments — In some areas, NovaMind fails to conform to prior art. I’m not suggesting that all drawing programs should be rigidly alike, but some conventions are second nature, and some drawing programs set examples that others should follow. For instance, Shift-dragging a rectangle’s corner should (but doesn’t in NovaMind) mean "preserve the rectangle’s proportions while resizing" (in fact, I could find no way to do this). And Option-dragging an object should (but doesn’t) copy it; instead, it’s the signal to detach the object from its parent and attach it to a different parent. There’s a default shape and style for newly created objects, but if you manually change one object to a different shape, that different shape becomes the default, which seems to me contrary to what a default is. Also, I was surprised to find there are no "styles" in the OmniGraffle sense; you cannot even copy the color of one object, say, to another object. So it’s rather hard to achieve uniformity of characteristics between objects.
Among other surprising shortcomings: an object can have only one hyperlink, and it emanates from the object itself, not from particular text within it; connections between objects cannot have text labels; objects cannot be rotated; NovaMind isn’t scriptable. Some of these are slated for fixing in some future update. I hope the developers will take a look at OmniGraffle and Intaglio and consider bringing NovaMind closer to that level of drawing prowess.
Some behaviors seemed to me to be downright bugs. For example, suppose you have an object that incorporates a graphic image. There are three settings for the arrangement of the image and the object text: the text can be above the image, below it, or centered in it. If the text was originally below the image and you change the setting so that it’s centered, the image is distorted (it stretches), and there is no way to say, "Hey, restore this image to its original proportions."
Conclusions — My quibbles notwithstanding, NovaMind is a fine program and a remarkable piece of work – and a boon to those who already love mind mapping or think they might love it. To try it out, download the demo (a 20.9 MB download; it watermarks your output as "Unlicensed," and after 30 days it stops saving). NovaMind is $100 ($20 more for the Screenwriters edition), with a 30 percent educational discount. It requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later (Tiger is recommended), and is a universal binary. Extra graphics libraries, and a "branch proposal system" that recommends words related to the one you start with, are free additional downloads.
By the time you read this, Tonya and Tristan and I will be on a well-deserved vacation trip to see family and friends in California, Oregon, and Washington (so we won’t be reading much email for the next week). Aside from our usual work and the extra tasks that always seem necessary when preparing to leave on vacation, I’ve been suffering some hardware failures of late that have hurt my productivity (and to an extent, my pride – I’m not supposed to have these problems, I’m a Mac user!).
Monitor Death — It all started when my left-hand Apple 17-inch Studio Display flickered briefly and went dead. It had gone black once about a week before unexpectedly, but it came right back that time. This time it was just dead, and my Power Mac promptly rearranged all the windows to account for the fact that it saw only one monitor. For those of you who use two monitors for increased productivity (and if you don’t, you should), having one monitor is better than none, but only slightly. I dove into troubleshooting mode, verifying that the problem was not the DVI-to-ADC adapter, nor the video card, nor the Mac itself. The monitor was just dead. (Lesson 1: It’s always worth checking all the connected components in a system to see exactly where the problem lies.)
Luckily, we have a 23-inch LCD television that has a VGA port, so I was able to bring it up as a second display fairly quickly with an additional video card we had lying around, but it was so much brighter than my remaining Studio Display and so fuzzy in text display that it wasn’t at all comfortable to use. Nevertheless, it was better than dropping down to a single monitor, so I suffered through using it while I arranged for a replacement. (Lesson 2: Backups are good, but it’s also good to have a line on backup hardware as well. That’s one reason I make sure to have a fairly capable PowerBook, just in case my desktop Mac dies.)
Dell makes excellent monitors that are far cheaper than Apple’s equally excellent monitors, so I first looked into buying a new matched pair of Dell 20-inch displays. Unfortunately, the way the low prices at Dell work, you must wait until a sale rolls around, and there weren’t any happening at the time. I could have spent about $550 per monitor right then, but when I could see from old sales that the price might drop to about $400, it was galling to pay that much more. Plus, Dell claimed the monitors wouldn’t ship for 5 to 7 days, which was a long time to be staring at that TV. I looked on eBay, where the prices for new Dell monitors were more in line with the sale prices, but a friend warned that making sure any such monitor had an original Dell warranty was key, since he’d had to send Dell monitors back for warranty service.
I was waffling about what to do when a friend who had heard about my predicament told me that he had a monitor identical to my dead one sitting unused because it hadn’t worked with his Developer Transition Kit, and he was happy to sell it to me for a reasonable price. That proved to be the best option, and I didn’t have the stress of working with an unknown quantity on eBay. (Lesson 3: In such situations, it’s often worth asking around if anyone you know has older hardware they are not using and would be happy to sell. Lesson 4: Replacing dead hardware with a device of equivalent age can help you avoid spending a lot on new hardware.)
When all was said and done, I was right back where I’d started, but with a newfound appreciation for my double-monitor setup. I’ve also started tracking the Dell sales via dealnews; at some point – perhaps when I get a new Mac – I’ll spring for a pair of new monitors and keep the old ones for backups.
Pining for 10.4.5 — Apple has a habit of releasing updates on Monday afternoon, which drives us absolutely batty, since we’ve usually finished compiling our issue for the week and must scramble to cover the release. The most recent was Mac OS X 10.4.6, which appeared two weeks ago. Strangely, although other staff members were able to see it in Software Update, my copy wouldn’t pick it up, which is unusual. Little did I realize that this was in fact a good thing. So, we all collaborated on the write-up using the release notes and the experiences of those who had been able to install it. (Lesson 5: Apple clearly schedules updates just to mess with our heads.)
The next day, though, my copy of Software Update announced that I could install 10.4.6, so I did, remembering that Apple promised an odd double-boot sequence after installation. After the first reboot, though, I got a kernel panic screen (a gray screen with a black box telling me to restart my Mac in four languages) but with the spinning startup gear rotating underneath it. I thought this was strange, but let it go, and indeed, the second restart happened automatically. Unfortunately, when the Mac came back up, it didn’t think my Ethernet network was connected to my PCI Ethernet card, so I rebooted again. This time I got the kernel panic screen again, but then the Mac just shut off. Turning it on again resulted in the kernel panic screen with the spinning gear, and it booted normally after that. Ethernet worked, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I realized that Menu Meters (which I quite like; it’s open source software from Raging Menace) wasn’t showing any activity on one of the two CPUs in my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4. Activity Monitor confirmed the problem, but everything else seemed to work normally. Every subsequent reboot either displayed the kernel panic screen and then booted (presumably one CPU was having a panic attack while the other remained calm) or shut off entirely after the kernel panic screen appeared. (Lesson 6: Although I didn’t have to revert to my backup of the previous night, making a backup before installing an update to Mac OS X is a smart thing to do.)
Once again, I launched into troubleshooting mode, trying Safe Boot (boot with the Shift key down), removing the now unused video card and my PCI Ethernet card, booting from and testing with Micromat’s TechTool Protege FireWire RAM drive, and booting from my PowerBook in FireWire Target Disk Mode (it was still running 10.4.5). Booting from both the Protege and my PowerBook worked perfectly, with no kernel panics, whereas Safe Boot and removing the PCI cards made no difference. To my mind, that meant that 10.4.6 was indeed the culprit, and not merely an innocent bystander that I’d installed at just the wrong time.
I reported the bug to Apple, but since it didn’t produce any panic.log files, there wasn’t much else to do but revert to Mac OS X 10.4.5 by performing an Archive & Install using my original Tiger DVD and then installing the combo update for 10.4.5. Of course, this all took two days, since I’d just lent my Family Pack Tiger DVD to my father so he could install Tiger in order to get multiple-person video iChat working. And, although Archive & Install is tremendously useful and easy to use, there are always a number of programs, like USB Overdrive, the driver for Seiko’s Smart Label Printer 430, Subversion, and StuffIt Deluxe, that break and must be reinstalled or that need to be re-registered, like Snapz Pro X. (Lesson 7: Never assume that a clean install will be quick.)
Just as with the monitor debacle, at the end of this process, I’d spent a number of hours troubleshooting the problem and recovering from it, all to end up exactly where I was when I started, though at least I didn’t have to pay for the privilege this time. (Lesson 8: At least when you’re a writer, you can get an article out of such situations!)
The Writing on the Wall — Two thoughts occurred to me throughout this entire process. First, and most notably, I feel bad for people who have problems but lack my level of experience, extra hardware, and connections. This sequence of events could easily have turned someone off the Mac for good if they didn’t have the perspective that PCs suffer from similar, if not far worse, troubles. And even if they remained a fan of the Mac, I can only imagine how much effort or money someone else would have had to throw at the problem. It’s no wonder consultants remain in business.
Second, you can see why people with troublesome older computers often just toss them and buy something new. Perhaps this is more common in the spyware-ridden Windows world, again, but it wouldn’t take much for someone to interpret these events (a monitor dying, a computer acting truly weirdly) as an indication that it was time for a new computer. Heck, I’ll admit that the thought even crossed my mind, and if Apple’s Intel-based replacements for the Power Mac had been available, my Power Mac might have found itself relegated to server duty.
It has been possible to run Windows in virtual machines on Macs for many years. However, with the recent switch to Intel chips and the beta releases of Apple’s Boot Camp and Parallels Workstation for Mac OS X, interest among Mac users in running Windows has expanded significantly. This article is intended to help new – and perhaps even long-time – users of Windows with a few tips I’ve learned over the years of suffering at the help desk of a Windows-using corporation.
Licensing and Activation — If you own an old Windows PC and hope you can move that computer’s Windows license to your shiny new Boot Camp-enabled Macintosh, or even a virtual machine, you may be out of luck.
OEM (original equipment manufacturer) versions of Windows XP, such as those that came with a system, have different end-user licensing agreements (EULAs) than the retail versions of XP. Many of these EULAs do not allow transfer to a different system.
To complicate matters, Windows XP has a mandatory activation process where the installation must be "approved" by Microsoft within 30 days of installation. If you install an OEM version of Windows XP on a Macintosh, the activation may not work.
Retail versions of Windows XP do allow transfers to new systems, although you will still need to run through the mandatory activation and may need to spend some time on the phone with Microsoft explaining what you are doing. You can view the EULAs for Microsoft’s products at the Web site below.
Installation — I have only three tips for installing Windows XP, and Mac users who are not used to the evils of the Windows world should pay particular attention to them.
Do not connect your computer to the network until you have Service Pack 2 installed.
Use a strong password.
Install remaining patches once connected to the network.
For a Boot Camp installation, leave your network cable disconnected. For a virtual machine installation, you should be able to disable the virtual network card manually in the machine settings (Virtual PC does this, I’m not sure about other products such as Parallels Workstation). If in doubt, disconnect the network cable from your computer.
Windows XP is notorious for being infected immediately after a new installation, before the user has time to install system patches. Windows XP Service Pack 1 installations have been reported compromised in as little as 4 minutes after being placed on a standard DSL connection.
If your Windows XP installation CD does not include Service Pack 2, use your Mac to download the standalone Service Pack 2 installer (a 266 MB download). You can use this to install SP2 prior to connecting to the network. If you use a slow dial-up connection, Microsoft will mail you a CD for free.
Once you have installed Service Pack 2, be sure to visit Microsoft’s Windows Update to download the patches released after Service Pack 2. You may have to reboot and reconnect to Windows Update several times to ensure you have all the patches. Windows Update requires Internet Explorer.
If you will be doing numerous Windows XP installations, to many machines or just repeated installs on your own, you may wish to build a custom install CD with patches already included on it. The nLiteOS and Bart’s PE Builder are popular tools for building specialized Windows XP boot CDs.
Additional Security – Always leave a firewall turned on, whether that’s the built-in Windows one or third party software. This is a good idea even if you’re computer is behind a hardware NAT firewall. The Windows firewall acts more like Little Snitch on the Mac, informing you of each program that attempts to access the network. This is good for finding spyware that was installed with a downloaded application. Two popular third party firewalls are Zone Alarm and Kerio Personal Firewall. Both offer feature limited free versions as well as paid versions with more features.
Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool should have been installed as part of the Windows Update during installation. This tool is not a replacement for a full-featured anti-virus package, but it can be helpful in removing hard-to-purge malware. It is updated once a month.
Anti-Virus — Speaking of viruses, you definitely want to install an anti-virus package. With the thousands of Windows viruses in existence, anti-virus software is a mandatory requirement for all Windows XP installations. I am not personally fond of the packages produced by big name vendors such as Symantec and McAfee; however, if you work for a corporation that licenses one of these products, home use versions are frequently available for little or no cost. I prefer Grisoft’s AVG product; home users can get it for free.
Spyware Removal — Be sure to install spyware detection and removal software. Most anti-virus products and firewalls do not block spyware installations. Some spyware is maliciously installed via deceiving Web pages, but quite a bit comes bundled with free applications. Unlike the Mac world where most free applications are just that, in the Windows world free programs are frequently ad-supported software: they download ads from the Internet and display them to you. There is nothing wrong with this business model (Eudora has offered an ad sponsored version for a long time and never been accused of being spyware), but unfortunately some adware vendors install ad software that:
- Is not removed when its host software is uninstalled
- Hijacks your Web browser
- Can cause crashes due to bugs
- Displays ads all the time
- Tracks the Internet sites you visit
This type of abusive software can be difficult to remove. Two popular tools for removing spyware are LavaSoft’s Ad-Aware and Safer Networking’s Spybot Search & Destroy. The Personal edition of Ad-Aware is free of charge to home users. Spybot Search & Destroy is free for all. You may wish to install both products and keep them updated. Frequently one application will catch something the other won’t.
Also, be wary of other malware removal tools. Some are actually spyware installers rather than uninstallers.
Alternate Web Browsers — Internet Explorer is one of the biggest security holes in Windows XP. I highly recommend installing an alternate browser. Firefox is probably the most popular Windows browser after Internet Explorer. Opera, a popular browser on the Mac, is also available on Windows.
Other Utilities — So far, most of my suggestions have been about protecting and securing your new Windows installation. What follows are utilities I’ve found useful in actually accomplishing tasks in Windows. Although a ton of free utilities are available for Windows, many of them can be completely useless, or worse, buggy or infected with spyware. Finding software you trust can be tricky. Be sure to dig around for suggestions from other Windows users.
Working with Zip Files: Like Mac OS X, Windows XP includes built-in functionality for working with Zip files. However, if you need extended features like disk spanning you might want to look at some of the other Zip programs available. StuffIt is also available for Windows and can expand StuffIt archives created on the Mac (resource forks are skipped, but if the file is usable on Windows, like Word documents, the resource forks are probably unnecessary anyway).
Media Players: Windows XP comes with Windows Media Player by default. QuickTime is also available, but unfortunately Apple decided to make the default installation of QuickTime include iTunes. If you already use iTunes on your Mac, you may not want it running in Windows XP on the same Mac. If you dig around you can find a QuickTime-only installer from Apple.
Other popular media players include Nullsoft’s WinAmp for audio files and VideoLAN’s VLC for video media. Note that Windows XP does not include a DVD player by default.
Google includes the Google Video Player in its Google Pack software collection. The Google Video Player is required for watching videos purchased from Google Video.
Working with Photos: Also included in the Google Pack collection is Picasa, a free utility similar to iPhoto.
Working with PDF: Like the Mac, the free Acrobat Reader is available for reading PDFs on Windows. However several alternatives are available for both creating PDFs and reviewing and editing PDFs. The University of Wisconsin has made several PostScript and PDF handling utilities available under the GNU Public License. These utilities can be used for viewing, printing, and creating PostScript and PDF files. CutePDF offers a free PDF Writer tool for creating PDFs.
Brave New World — Thousands of Mac users are undoubtedly experimenting with Windows XP via Boot Camp and Parallels Workstation right now, but we all need to remember that Windows XP isn’t just Mac OS X with a different look and feel. In particular, it’s essential to maintain good security practices at all times, something that’s not second nature to many Mac users. I hope these hard-won tips will ease your initial explorations into Windows XP, and that you’ll be able to make the most of the additional flexibility of running Windows while being able to stick with the familiar face of Mac OS X for everything else.
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Comments on: WinOnMac Smackdown — Last week’s article about Boot Camp and Windows virtualization brings up questions of separate hard disk partitions and hardware virtualization. (6 messages)
How to join two 802.11g access points? Questions and answers about extending the range of a wireless network. (5 messages)
New to Mail.app — A reader moving his email from Eudora to Apple’s Mail application runs into problems, which might be solved by rebuilding the errant mailbox’s index. (2 messages)