iTunes, TV Shows and Apple TV

iTunes vexes me. For better or for worse, we’re an Apple household and own an Apple TV, so I’m kind of stuck with iTunes for managing my media files.

My wife and I have also purchased a significant amount of DVDs over the years, which I ripped to iTunes using the trusty old Handbrake (love you, Handbrake!). These DVDs include a lot of TV shows, such as Doctor Who and Magnum PI.

My workflow has always been: rip via Handbrake, then import into iTunes by dragging the m4v files onto the iTunes window. By default, the TV shows don’t have any metadata (no proper titles, descriptions, episode numbers, or artwork), and iTunes automatically files them under Movies. This means they’ll show up in Apple TV with no description, no preview picture (such as DVD box art), and no sequence information.

I recently heard someone mention iDentify, a Mac app that adds metadata to movie files. It’s not free, so I had reservations about buying it. However, $10 is a small price to pay for cleaning up such a big mess, especially if you’re a bit OCD like me. I decided to give it a try, and it works very well, especially for TV shows — if you manually specify each file’s season and episode number, iDentify will take care of the rest by performing lookups at thetvdb.com. Sweet.

iDentify took care of the metadata and artwork problem, but the files were still cluttering my Movies menu, making it very hard to navigate with a remote control. For example, Magnum PI went eight seasons and has over 150 episodes, so we’d have to navigate past 150 Magnum PI titles to get to any videos whose name began with N-Z. Very annoying.

For a long time my workaround was to create custom genres and shove the TV shows there, then stick to genres when navigating Apple TV. This always felt kludgy, and I wondered why I couldn’t just drag the TV show episodes onto the TV Shows section in iTunes. This weekend I decided to look into it, and stumbled onto a MacWorld article containing a solution so simple I had to do a double face-palm: change the Media Kind from Movie to TV Show.

iTunes file properties dialog, 'Options' tab

Once set, the video is automagically moved from the iTunes Media/Movies folder to the iTunes Media/TV Shows folder, and shows up in the TV Shows menu!

Be sure to input the show’s name in the Video section so the episodes will be properly grouped.

iTunes file properties dialog, 'Video' tab

The MacWorld article pointed out that this technique can be extended to group ANY videos. This piqued my interest — my wife and I own a lot of DVDs that contain high-quality special features, including the entire James Bond collection, Star Wars collection, and classic films like Lawrence of Arabia. As I mentioned, I’m partially OCD, so I’ve ripped quite a few of these special features. Until now, they’ve all cluttered up my Movies menu just like the TV shows did.

TV Show grouping to the rescue! By changing the videos’ Media Kind to TV Show, they get moved to the TV Show section and can then be grouped. For example, I grouped all of my James Bond special features under the heading “James Bond Featurettes”. Now when I navigate the TV Shows section of iTunes or Apple TV, I only see ONE listing for James Bond Featurettes and no longer need to sift through 100+ titles.

iTunes still leaves a lot to be desired, but I’m a happy camper now that my files are well-organized and have proper metadata.

Setting OS X Desktop Picture Based on Time of Day

I recently changed jobs (Hello, FireEye!) and was issued a new MacBook Air. I spend a lot of time looking at the screen and was getting bored with the supplied desktop pictures. I also start work very early most days (7am-ish), and thought it would be nice to have a desktop picture that matches the mellow-ness of such an early hour.

Of course, this leads to daydreaming — “scope creep” in professional parlance — and next thing you know, I started thinking “well, maybe I could also set it to show a nice evening-themed picture at night”. Then “maybe I can get it to change both screens” (I use a laptop with an external display).

I also liked the challenge of putting together a script as quickly as possible. (In my off-hours, of course!)

I downloaded some nice wallpaper images from National Geographic, then created six folders that correspond to the major periods of the day: morning (early and late), afternoon (early and late), and evening (early and late). I organized my National Geographic photos into those six folders, based on the mood each photo evokes. For example, this one is an early morning photo.

Then I rolled up my sleeves and got out the trusty old AppleScript Editor. The resulting AppleScript is posted on GitHub, if you’d like to take a gander.

The gist:

  • It selects a folder based on the time of day.
  • It randomly selects an image from within that folder and displays it as the desktop picture.
  • It supports more than one monitor, with an option to either display the same image on all monitors, or display different images on each monitor.

The resulting AppleScript must be run at a regularly scheduled interval. I’m currently using GeekTool to run the script every 15 minutes, but I might eventually switch to a crontab job for less overhead.

Regardless, I’m quite happy with the way it turned out, and have already started daydreaming about other things I can hack together with AppleScript.

Importing Google Contacts into iCloud

I signed up for the new iCloud service, and wanted to sync my Google contacts so they will show up on my various Apple devices. MobileMe, iCloud’s predecessor, had built-in support for syncing with Google accounts, so I assumed iCloud would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it turns out iCloud does not auto-sync with Google.

It’s easy to completely wipe the iCloud contacts and replace them with Google contacts. However, I didn’t want to import ALL contacts — I wanted a curated list of contacts so I won’t have to scroll through hundreds of names just to find a friend’s phone number. Also, like many people, my Google contacts and my iPhone contacts were not quite synced, and I had some contacts on the phone I didn’t want to lose.

I hunted high and low for automated solutions, including software tools, when I realized it’s actually pretty easy to perform a manual sync. The basic steps are:

  1. Import contacts from iCloud into Google
  2. Clear all contacts from iCloud
  3. Replace iCloud contacts with a curated list of contacts from Google

I expanded the tasks into ten steps, listed below. They look more complicated than they really are — the entire process should only take you around 5 minutes, unless you get caught up in cleaning your Contacts list, which in my case took over an hour!

Note: These steps assume you’re on a Mac, you’ve already set up iCloud on your Mac and iDevices, and all of your devices are synced. All we’re doing is adding Google contacts to the mix.

The steps

  1. On your Mac, Launch Address Book.app and export all Address Book contacts to vCard format.

    Edit > Select All, then File > Export > Export vCard

  2. Take a deep breath, then delete all of the contacts from Address Book.app. This will also automatically delete all contacts from iCloud. (Obviously you should only do this if you’ve confirmed your export in step 1 was successful.)

    Edit > Select All, then Edit > Delete Cards

  3. Launch a web browser and log in to the Contact Manager for your Google account.
  4. Clean up your contacts in Google Contact Manager. This makes it easier to sort through them later. The most important thing is to merge all duplicates where possible.

    More > Find & merge duplicates…

  5. Create a new group in Contacts Manager — I named mine “Sync with iCloud” — and add any contacts you would like to import to iCloud. This enables you to selectively import contacts from Google to iCloud. If you want to sync ALL of your contacts, you can probably skip this step.
  6. Import the Address Book vCard you created in step 1 into Google Contact Manager. This will ensure you don’t lose any contacts that were on your Mac/iPhone but not in Google.

    More > Import

    Upon successful import, you’ll notice Google Contacts Manager has created two new groups: “cards” and a group with today’s date with a name like “imported on [date]”. These two groups are identical, so I’m not sure why Google creates both of them.

  7. Perform another ‘merge’ to clean up any duplicates you may have created by importing your Apple contacts.

    More > Find & merge duplicates…

  8. If you’re being selective about your contacts list, sift through the new ‘cards’ group, adding any desired contacts to your “Sync with iCloud” group.
  9. Once your “Sync with iCloud” group is pruned and ready to go, export it to vCard format.

    More > Export…

    Make sure you select your iCloud group from the drop-down menu under “Which contacts do you want to export?” or else you will be exporting every contact in your Google Contacts list. Of course, if you’re going to export all contacts, go ahead and select the entire “My Contacts” list.

  10. On your Mac, drag the vCard onto Address Book.app to import the contacts. They will sync with iCloud almost instantly.

That’s it! You’re done. It isn’t a perfect process by any means, but it enabled me to merge my Apple Address Book with my Google Contacts, then import only the important contacts back to iCloud.

Drawbacks

1. This is a manual process, so any changes to iCloud will not be reflected in Google and vice versa.

2. The creation of the three new Google Contacts groups is a bit messy. Once I was done with step 10 above, I deleted the two groups created by the vCard import. This isn’t necessary, but I found them a little annoying to look at.

Lion Server compared to Snow Leopard Server

Update 10/25/2011: I’ve discovered that Apple provides Lion-ready versions of the older server management tools via a separate download from Apple, called Server Admin Tools 10.7 [link no longer available]. I have amended my post to reflect the capabilities of the Server Admin Tools 10.7 suite. Short version: Server Admin Tools 10.7 looks a lot like Server Admin Tools 10.6, but it has been stripped down, and has reduced functionality compared to Server Admin Tools 10.6 that ships with Snow Leopard. On the bright side, Server Admin Tools 10.7 doesn’t conflict with the new Server.app in Lion.

As I discussed in a previous post, I’ve been hosting this website on a Mac Mini server running Snow Leopard Server. The initial setup was a bit convoluted and not the most pleasant experience. It could have been much worse, but it was nowhere near what I expected from an Apple product.

At work, I recently had the opportunity to set up a Mac Mini running Lion Server. Now that I’ve had a chance to use it a bit, I thought I’d jot down a few comments. If you’ve done any research into Lion Server, you probably won’t be surprised by my comments.

First, the disclaimer: I have used Snow Leopard Server and Lion Server for slightly different tasks, so it’s isn’t a straight-up apples-to-apples comparison.

Web hosting

My Snow Leopard Server is confined strictly to web hosting: Apache, PHP, MySQL, and a dab of FTP. I host multiple sites and use a combination of the Server Preferences app and the Server Admin app to manage everything. Setting up websites in Snow Leopard is really easy via the Server Preferences app, and you have a pretty good assortment of settings to tweak in the Server Admin app if you want to fine-tune things.

Lion Server discarded both the Server Preferences app and the Server Admin app in favor of a new, streamlined “Server” app. It’s even easier to set up a website in Lion than it was in Snow Leopard. BUT… Server doesn’t provide ANY of the fine-tuning options that Server Admin provided in Snow Leopard. If you’re a total server admin n00b who only wants bare-minimum web hosting, this is probably good. But if you’d like any level of real control, you’ll be forced to use the command line. For me — not a n00b anymore but certainly not a command line guru — I’m left in the lurch a bit. I expect to be doing a ton of Google searches in the near future.

One example of how this can affect you: most domains should be set up with an alias to enable the domain to work without the “www” subdomain. For example, http://www.pipwerks.com is an alias that points visitors to http://pipwerks.com. If the www alias isn’t created, anyone who attempts to visit pipwerks.com by typing http://www.pipwerks.com will get a browser error. In Snow Leopard, it’s super easy to set up an alias in the Server Admin app. Lion does not provide this option, so you’ll have to do it via Terminal. More Google searches and wasted time.

Score (5 highest, 1 lowest): Lion: 2, Snow Leopard: 4

MySQL

Apple discarded MySQL in favor of PostgreSQL. This will cause problems for many who depend on MySQL, such as WordPress users. The good news is that you can install MySQL using an installer available for free from mysql.com. The bad news is you’re on your own when it comes to security patches and updates… Apple’s system update will no longer handle patches for you. (To be fair, Apple is notoriously slow to release security updates for server components anyway, so you probably shouldn’t rely on them to keep your system secure.) Not a showstopper, but definitely a stumbling block.

Score (5 highest, 1 lowest): Lion 1, Snow Leopard: 4

File Sharing

Snow Leopard’s file sharing GUI was decent, but I frequently had to tweak settings in multiple places. It was a bit disjointed and I was never quite able to get my FTP access set up the way I preferred. In Lion, the file sharing GUI is extremely simple and much easier to use. Maybe it’s because Apple removed the FTP option in the file sharing preferences! In Lion, you must use the Terminal to control your FTP services (or maybe find a 3rd party app). This seriously sucks. On the bright side, AFP is a cinch to set up. Since I’m only using AFP at the moment, I can be generous in my grading. If I depended on FTP, I’d grade much lower.

Score (5 highest, 1 lowest): Lion: 2.5, Snow Leopard: 2.5

User management

Configuring the directory in Snow Leopard Server was the single most painful experience I’ve had with Apple products (well, at least since the emergence of OS X — Mac OS 9 caused quite a bit of pain back in the day!). Configuring the directory seriously sucked and required hours and hours of troubleshooting, including multiple calls to Apple support. One little mistake when you first set up your system and it’s hosed, requiring a clean install.

Lion Server simplifies the process, and was astoundingly easy to set up. In fact, one of the key differences between the two systems is what happens when you first install the Server system: Snow Leopard forces you to configure your directory right away (even if you only intend to have a single user), while Lion doesn’t even mention the directory until you try to configure a service that relies on it. In this event, the configuration screen pops up and the process is so quick you’re done before you realize it. I can’t begin to tell you how happy that made me.

Snow Leopard has an app dedicated to user management (Workgroup Manager). Lion took the most basic elements of Workgroup Manager and turned them into a pane inside Server.app.

Update: Workgroup Manager is still available as part of the Server Admin Tools 10.7 [link no longer available] package, available as a separate download from Apple.

Since neither of my servers are used by clients (I only have a handful of accounts), I’m much happier with the slimmer approach used by Lion. Of course if you have many clients, you may prefer Snow Leopard’s far-reaching Workgroup Manager app.

Score (5 highest, 1 lowest): Lion 4, Snow Leopard: 1

Firewall

Snow Leopard Server includes a Firewall pane in Server Admin app, which makes it very easy to configure your firewall settings. This is gone in Lion.

Update: The new version of the Server Admin app (part of the Server Admin Tools 10.7 [link no longer available] package) provides a GUI for Firewall configuration. It’s a no-frills management panel, but it’s there if you need it.

Score (5 highest, 1 lowest): Lion 1 3, Snow Leopard: 4

Managed Clients

A “Managed Client” is a Mac that is associated with your server, allowing you to perform remote updates, enforce security options, etc. This is basically the feature that allows you to be an IT department and lock down computers registered on your system.

I never used the Managed Client feature in Snow Leopard, so I can’t make any comments. In Lion, the Managed Client feature (accessed via Profile Manager) is so easy to use, it makes me giggle. Granted, I’m not a “real” IT professional when it comes to managed clients, so take my comments with a grain of salt. All I know is, I needed to manage about a dozen Macs at work (think: computer lab-style shared workstations), and Profile Manager has been very easy for me to use, without having any real technical experience in the area.

One downside: all the Mac clients must have the Lion OS if they’re to be managed by Lion Server.

Update: From what I’ve researched, Snow Leopard clients can be managed from a Lion Server, but there are certain incompatibilities to watch out for. Clearly Apple would prefer everyone to use Lion.

Score (5 highest, 1 lowest): Lion 4.5, Snow Leopard: n/a

Summary

Lion Server really trimmed the fat, and Apple appears to have gotten so carried away they trimmed some of the good meat as well. If you’re looking for a GUI with lots of options, go with Snow Leopard Server. If you want the most streamlined experience you can get and only need to do basic web hosting, go with Lion. If you’re comfortable with Terminal and the command line, I’d suggest going with Lion because the GUI won’t get in your way as much and you probably already know what you’re doing.

I will be experimenting with Lion server for a while before I try and upgrade from Snow Leopard Server (if I upgrade). And if I decide to upgrade from Snow Leopard to Lion, I will definitely do a clean install… so many things have changed, I can foresee a lot of configuration problems arising from upgrades.

Multiple Macs, One iTunes Library

The problem

50GB+ iTunes library.
Multiple Macs.
How can you share the iTunes library between Macs?

Solution #1: Home Sharing

The answer Apple provides is “Home Sharing,” which allows you to share the contents of your iTunes library with up to 5 Macs.

However, there are major shortcomings with Home Sharing. The first is the inability to edit the shared library. For example, if you want to edit a playlist, you have to use the Mac that controls the iTunes library. If you’re on a different machine and use Home Sharing to listen to your library, you will not be able to make any edits to the playlist (or add any new music).

A second major shortcoming is the inability to sync your iDevices (iPhone, iPad, etc.) using your other Macs. Apple wants you to keep your iDevice registered on a single Mac. If you sync your iPhone at home on your iMac, then take your iPhone and MacBook Pro with you on a trip, you won’t be able to sync your iPhone using your MacBook. Very annoying.

Solution #2: Dropbox

If your iTunes library is small enough, you can move your entire iTunes library onto the cloud. For example, a service like Dropbox will let you store up to 5GB online for free. If you use the Dropbox app on each of your Macs, Dropbox will copy all of your iTunes files to each computer, and will keep all of the items in sync for you automatically. If you add MP3s to iTunes using you MacBook, they’ll show up on your iMac shortly afterward.

There are two serious shortcomings to this system. The first is synchronization of the iTunes database file. You can run into synchronization problems if you edit the iTunes library on two Macs with a short period of time. Dropbox needs time to synchronize the files; if you edit the iTunes library on one machine, then edit the iTunes library on a second machine before Dropbox has synchronized the changes from the first machine, your iTunes database files will get out of sync and you’ll wind up losing some of your changes.

Let’s say you edit a playlist on your iMac, then import a CD using your MacBook. If the database file on the iMac isn’t synced before importing the CD on your MacBook, Dropbox will only sync the newest item. In this example, the imported CD would be retained but the edited playlist would be lost.

(It should be noted that this limitation applies to all cloud sync tools, not just Dropbox.)

The second drawback to syncing via Dropbox is the size constraints: Dropbox’s free account is limited to 5GB. As of this writing, their largest account is 50GB and requires a substantial monthly fee. My iTunes library is well over 80GB, so I’m out of luck.

Solution #3: Network Drive

If you have an Apple Time Capsule at home, you can use its file sharing features on your home network. (Attaching an external hard drive to an Airport Extreme provides the same functionality.) In theory, you can place your entire iTunes library on this network drive and let all your Macs connect to it.

Of course, nothing is ever that simple! When a Mac opens the iTunes library file, it becomes locked and no one else can use it. The other Macs will have to wait until the file is unlocked before they can connect to it. This means only one Mac can use iTunes at a time. Major drag.

Solution #4: Dropbox and Network Drive Hybrid

The Dropbox solution is certainly the nicest (and easiest) so far, but due to Dropbox’s account size limitations, it won’t work for me. However, since I have a Time Capsule with plenty of space, I’ve decided to combine the Dropbox and network drive approaches. Here’s how it works:

1. Move your entire iTunes folder to your home network drive.

2. Copy the iTunes library (database file, XML files) to your Dropbox folder (I placed them in a subfolder named iTunes).

3. Create an alias of the network drive’s iTunes Music folder and place it in your Dropbox folder. Be sure to rename it to iTunes Music (remove the word “alias”). Create an alias of the Album Artwork folder, too. If you skip this step, whenever you import music to your library, it will be copied to your Dropbox folder instead of your network drive. The aliases ensure iTunes places all new library items on the network drive.

4. On each Mac, configure iTunes to use the library file located in the Dropbox folder. Do this by holding option on your keyboard when clicking the iTunes icon in your dock. You will be prompted to choose an existing library or create a new one. Click “Choose Library” then navigate to your iTunes database file in your Dropbox folder.

That’s it! You can now access your iTunes library on each Mac without using Home Sharing. iTunes will behave identically on each Mac; you can add music, edit playlists, and sync your iDevices without Apple’s usual restrictions.

Caveats and Gotchas

I’ve been using this system for about a month with no major issues. Of course, no solution is perfect, and there are some gotchas to keep in mind with this setup:

  • Since Dropbox is handling the synchronization of the iTunes database file, only one Mac can edit the library at a time. Be sure to synchronize before using a second Mac to make updates.
  • If you update your iTunes software, you may need to recreate your aliases in the Dropbox folder.
  • You need to ensure you’re connected to your network drive before you start playing any files in iTunes, or else you’ll get the ‘missing file’ icon.

Dear Apple and Adobe

 

Update: Steve Jobs Responds! Well, not to my letter directly, but it hits on the major points and is a well-written explanation of Apple’s position.

Dear Apple and Adobe

I’m a long-time customer and have spent more money on your products than I have on just about any other aspect of my life. I’ve spent more money on your products than I’ve spent on my healthcare, vacations, kitchen appliances, children’s school supplies, or home entertainment system.

In return, you’ve increasingly shown a disregard for my needs and concerns, and have acted in ways that demonstrate all you want from me is my money.

For example, both of you have constantly forced me (or at a minimum pressured me) to buy updates to products I already paid for. For years I went along with it because I bought into the sales hype and assumed these updates would somehow make my life better.  In most cases, they did not.

Adobe, your constant tinkering with the Creative Suite has brought a few nifty tools to the world, but these new tools will not get me to overlook the incredible bloat you’ve unleashed on my computers — almost 6GB of program files on my Windows PC at work, and over 7GB of app files on my Mac at home. Your applications feel more unstable with every release, and your UI feels slow and unresponsive despite the extra RAM and other hardware upgrades on my machines. Some of the biggest security holes on my computers are due to your Acrobat software — the very same Acrobat software I’ve learned to hate because of how bloated, complicated, and unfriendly it has become. It feels like it gets worse with each release.

Apple, your innovation is refreshing. Adobe could learn a thing or two by examining your software: increased productivity through reduced feature sets and cleaner UI. Simple is usually best. However, despite your continued excellence in design, your behavior is repulsive. You’ve consistently screwed your early adoptors via your pricing schemes and forced millions of Americans to use a phone network they detest. (Why? Because AT&T was willing to give you a bigger cut of the revenue?) Worst of all, the totalitarianism displayed in your latest iPhone developer agreement is breathtaking. It appears your goal is to piss off everyone, even your staunchest allies… like Adobe.

Apple and Adobe, you used to play well together. You both benefited from your long-term relationship and grew into very large, very successful companies. I sincerely doubt either of you would have survived the 1990s intact if it weren’t for your partnership. Desktop publishing was the Mac’s forte and the one thing that kept it afloat when the buzzards were circling. And who provided the most popular DTP software? Adobe (and the companies Adobe acquired, like Aldus and Macromedia).

Adobe, I know you’re mad because Apple won’t let you put your Flash technology on the new iPhone platform (iPhone, iPod, iPad). Honestly, if I were controlling a platform, I would have major concerns, too. As I mentioned earlier, your track record for software quality seems to be in a steady decline. Your products have become infamous for security holes, bloat, and crashing. It didn’t used to be that way. Somewhere along the line you dropped the ball, and now it’s coming back to bite you. The good news is that it isn’t too late for you to reign things in and regain control of your software. Stop trying to please everyone by adding every conceivable feature under the sun, and really focus on the most important elements. Drop the cruft. Clean the cupboards. Get that lint out of your bellybutton. Once your software is respectable again, you’ll be in a much stronger position to complain about Apple.

Apple, I don’t know what happened to you. You went from being a popular underdog to being the class bully. You’re in danger of becoming as popular as Microsoft in the European court system. From where I sit, your biggest mistake has been the idea that you can take over the world, one industry at a time. Of course, many companies are aggressive and set big goals for themselves, but they don’t stab their partners in the back as quickly and viciously as you seem to do. Your hubris and eagerness to expand into your partners’ markets is going to be your downfall. People have liked you because of your design sensibilities and because you were the hip underdog. You are no longer the hip underdog, and with time, other companies will create products that will be (almost) as stylish but also cheaper and with equivalent or greater capabilities.

The bottom line is that neither of you are choir boys, and I’m fed up with your bickering.

Adobe, stop playing the sympathy card. It’s a complete turn-off because I know how crappy your software can be. Granted, it’s unfortunate that so many people depend on Flash and Flash doesn’t work on the iPhone platform, but Flash is not a web standard. For all its shortcomings, the iPhone platform has one excellent quality: a top-notch HTML5 browser. Standardistas have been warning people not to go all-in with Flash for years, and now we see why. If it isn’t part of a standard, it will not be incorporated into some products. It’s the vendor’s choice. Simple as that.

Apple, stop trying to take over the world. We’ve seen what happens to other companies who try it, and it never looks pretty. Focus on your core values and let your partners do their thing without stepping on their toes.

Oh, and ditch AT&T already, will ya?

Respectfully,

Philip

Installing Parallels Tools (v4) in Ubuntu 8.10

I had a hard time sorting this out, so I figured I’d post it in case anyone else needs to know.

Assumptions: You have Parallels v4 for Mac, and have already created an Ubuntu 8.10 image.

Instructions:

  1. Launch your Ubuntu image (in window mode).
  2. Go to Virtual Machine > Install Parallels Tools

    Virtual Machine - Install Parallels Tools
  3. A dialog box appears. It contains vague instructions that aren’t very helpful for Linux newbies (hence this blog post). Ignore the instructions and click “continue”.

    Installer dialog
  4. A CD icon appears on the desktop, and the window opens displaying the CD contents. You won’t be clicking anything in this window, so go ahead and close it.

    CD icon appears on desktop
  5. Launch the Terminal by going to Applications > Accessories > Terminal

    Launch Terminal
  6. Next run the installer by typing sudo sh /cdrom/install and pressing the return button on the keyboard. You will be prompted to enter your system administrator password.
  7. The Parallels Tools installer appears. Follow the instructions.

    Parallels Tools Installer Screen

That’s it! You’ll need to reboot the virtual machine, and then you’re good to go.

Just the Macs, ma’am

The transition is almost complete: I have ditched my Windows-based PC for a MacBook Pro.

My reasons?  Well, I could write a whole bunch of fluff about how as a developer I need to be able to test my work on multiple operating systems, and a Mac (with BootCamp and/or Parallels) allows me to do that.  

Or maybe I can tell you that when I attended the Google I/O conference a week or two ago, I felt completely un-cool because I wasn’t slinging around a MacBook Pro, unlike (at quick glance) half of the attendees at the conference.

(Side note: second most popular laptop?  IBM/Lenovo ThinkPads.  They were all over the place, too.)

Maybe I can say it’s because I finally watched An Inconvenient Truth the other day, which — unintentionally — pointed out yet another inconvenient truth: Keynote is way better than PowerPoint.  (Al Gore’s famous slide presentation was done in Keynote.)

I could say that using a Mac will make me more creative, or that a Mac’s built-in accessibility tools can help me design web sites and courseware that work for people with disabilities.

Perhaps I could tell you that I simply wanted to return to my roots: I was a die-hard Mac user for a solid decade before turning to the Dark Side.

In reality, I had no single reason to switch from Windows to a Mac, but have felt the urge bubbling for quite some time, for all of the reasons above and more.  One of the best reasons was: I wanted a lightweight but powerful laptop.  Simple enough, eh?  But the tipping point was something even simpler (and IMHO) funnier: Apple has a back-to-school sale going, which meant a free iPod Touch if I bought the MacBook Pro.  Sweet.

So now I have a MacBook Pro AND an iPod Touch.  I feel like such a hipster, only without the cool hair, cool clothes and bad attitude. I suppose a real hipster would scoff at the iPod Touch and say I should have gotten an iPhone. I’m not ready for that commitment yet… Apple needs to ditch AT&T before I get that particular toy.  😉

Anyway, now that I’ve been playing with my new Apple goodies for a few days, I’m really appreciating (rediscovering?) the excellent user interface design, where it’s apparent that a lot of thought went into every aspect of the the UI.  And, of course, the MacBook Pro “just worked” from the start.

(Side note #2: Ubuntu also runs great out-of-the-box if you ever want to give Linux a shot.)

I’m also really enjoying the software that comes with a Mac. I don’t know if it’s a fair knock against Windows, but the software that comes with OS X feels more useful, and is certainly easier to look at! Apple’s iWork suite is cool, too; I already mentioned Keynote, and “Pages” is much slicker and easier to use than Word. Too bad I can’t use iWork applications at the office since none of my coworkers have Macs.

The iPod Touch has been a lot of fun, especially using Safari with the built-in WiFi.  I’m definitely going to start paying closer attention to how my websites and courseware fare in small-screen mobile environments.

Are YOU a Mac user?

Are you a Mac user?  Have any tips or recommendations?  I’m using Parallels to run Windows XP, so I still have access to my Windows-only stuff.  However, when it comes to Mac software, I’m starting over and need to figure out what’s hot and what’s not. I have iWork 08 and Adobe CS3, but not much else.

Anything else I should be using?  🙂

A Tale of Two (or more) Computers

A computer is born, and another computer dies (“I’m not quite dead!” he says in his best Eric Idle imitation).

(Mac) Hi, I’m a Mac.
(PC) And I’m a PC.

I’m sure all of you know this commercial by now. As with many other geeks around the world, I started salivating with the advent of Intel-based Macs that can run Windows natively. Mmmm… Maaaac…

And to me, it’s funny that many of my coworkers and friends are surprised at my interest in the Intel Macs. You see, these days I’m known as a PC guy; everyone thinks that’s how I got started, and that I’m a total Windows nerd. Even my stepkids. [I’m trying hard not to yell “WELL, I’M NOT” right now.]

This is probably because I build my own PCs, by which I mean I buy parts and assemble them. These PCs are used for everything from my workstation(s) to my arcade cabinet. At last count we had six functioning PCs in our house (2 laptops and 4 custom PCs for anyone keeping score).

But I wasn’t always Mr. PC.

Let me take you back in time, to 1990. My stepfather, who has his own business, has been an Apple user since the green-screened Apple IIe. Around 1990 he was using an Apple SE, and decided to get a PowerBook. It was easy enough to use, and I typed a few (very few) high school papers on his Mac. I was also a guitarist in a rock band; one day we needed to make some flyers for a gig, and somehow I wound up using my stepfather’s Mac to make the flyer. A romance was born.

In the late 80s and early 90s, my brother had been a total PC guy (he aspired to be a computer programmer), and was always telling me how many great things you can do in DOS. I was highly bored and uninterested. The closest I had come to DOS at that point was a Commodore 64 in middle school. The Mac had a nice GUI, and was fun! (See any parallels to e-learning, anyone?)

Over the next decade, I worked as a prepress typesetter/graphic designer. Not surprisingly, I was a staunch Mac user and advocate. I graduated from OS 6 to OS 7, then OS 7.5, which I highly enjoyed. Around OS 8, when the PowerPCs came to life, things started becoming less fun for me; it seemed my Mac was crashing more often, the computers were getting more expensive, and with each new OS, the software I owned would stop working! Being a poor student at the time, I couldn’t afford a nice new PowerPC, and prayed Apple would let other computer companies start making Macs, which I had hoped would drive the price down. Sure enough, they tried, but it was a short-lived affair with a messy divorce.

By OS 9 my Mac (my 4th Mac in 10 years, I think) was barely functioning. Even the Macs at school kept crashing. I was also increasingly frustrated at the lack of software titles available for Macs. The few you COULD get were much more expensive than their PC counterparts.

At this point I had dabbled with Windows PCs a bit at work, and was forced to use Windows 98 at one of my jobs. I was pleasantly surprised that my beloved Adobe and Macromedia products worked just as well in Windows as they did on a Mac! But I still refused to give up my Mac at home.

In 2000 I wanted to get another Mac, this time one that could run audio software such as ProTools; I wanted a DAWto do computer-based multi-tracking, but they were WAY out of my price range. ProTools systems at the time were around $10K, AND ProTools was only supported on a select number of Mac models. Sheesh.

One day I complained about it to my PC-loving brother, who whispered in my ear “build your own computer! It will be cheaper, you can just get the parts you need, and you can control the quality of the components!”

I thought about it and realized that while audio recording software had long been the domain of Macs, things were changing. The tide was shifting, just like how Adobe and Macromedia made their products work great in Windows.

I took the plunge and built my first computer. It was easier than I expected, and probably 1/3 the price of a comparable Mac. I embraced the extensibility and flexibility of PCs (though I’ve never loved Windows), and gave up my Mac allegiance. That’s right, I went to the Dark Side. Besides, Steve Jobs was back and putting out a new operating system every 6 months; I was tired of keeping up and couldn’t afford it anymore.

Fast-forward to today: my 6 PCs all run some version of Windows, though I’ve got Ubuntu (Linux) here and there. But something has changed inside me. I’m tired. I’m worn out. Windows is stale as hell, and after seven-plus years, I’m still building and rebuilding computers… it feels like it never ends. Sometimes I find myself thinking it sure would be nice to buy a pre-configured system so I don’t have to work under-the-hood anymore. I want to be a user, not a builder. I see entire Dell computer systems going for less than the price of my computer monitor in 1999.

And I see Intel Macs.

Mmmm… Maaac…

My birthday was in November, and guess what I did? I finally bought myself a Mac for doing audio production! I bought an Intel iMac with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB USB drive, and it cost less than my PC laptop from 2004. Sweet. I felt as if a new world was dawning.

As I unpacked my iMac (which the wife refers to as the iMistress), I dreamed that the days of configuring my computer, spending hours installing software, and all the other tedious ‘administration’ stuff was gone. If you’ve ever unpacked these new iMacs, you’d think the same thing: they’re ready-to-go out of the (very pretty) box, with only ONE cable to plug in, aside from the mouse and keyboard. I had it unpacked, assembled, and turned on in about 5 minutes. Mmmm… Maaaac…

Then something funny happened; I checked the OS software version and discovered that my NEW iMac didn’t have the latest flavor of OS X installed! I had to WIPE THE HARD DRIVE AND DO A CLEAN INSTALL! D’OH! This is something I had done a million times on my PCs, but nonetheless, I thought was behind me.

And let me tell ya something, Mac OSX does NOT install any quicker than Windows XP. Actually, If I had to bet money, I’d say Ubuntu is the easiest OS to install, hands-down.

Installing Logic Pro (audio software) took over FIVE HOURS. Oh.. my… God. And am I the only Mac owner who hates iTunes and likes two-button mice?

But this is a tale of TWO computers… so let’s get to #2: my Windows workstation.

I use this computer for everything, from general email and web surfing to critical development projects. It’s my cornerstone. And it died unexpectedly Saturday night. I’ve been troubleshooting PCs for years, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with this PC.

I started wondering if it was a sign to go out and buy that pretty MacBook Pro I’ve been flirting with. Since it’s an Intel Mac, I can install Windows on it and use all of my existing software. It even has a DVI port and can run my 21″ widescreen LCD. But on reflection, I wondered if it would be any better than my iMac (which in case you’re wondering is in a different part of the house and reserved for my audio work).

Just as I was about to throw in the towel and pay a visit to the Apple store, I discovered the problem with my PC: corrupt RAM. An easy fix.

So there goes my half-baked dream of becoming all-Mac, and here comes yet another trip to the PC store to get some RAM… and maybe a few other components to tinker with when I have time. 🙂

Oh, and in case any of you are wondering why I’m not responding to your emails, it’ll probably take another night for for me to install all of the Windows service packs and security updates, then another 2 nights to reinstall all of my production software. Should be a blast. Not.