April 2006

Boot Camp & Parallels

As a new Mac user I’ve been quite intrigued with all the fuss about Boot Camp over the last week or so. I’ve been longing to move away from using Windows for so long, it seemed kind of odd to hear all these people getting enthusiastic about running it on their Macs.

What is Boot Camp? It’s Apple’s official method of installing Windows XP on a Macintosh. You run an application that re-partitions your drive to make room for Windows. It then launches you into the Windows install process and gives you a disk full of Windows drivers to support various bits of your Mac hardware when running Windows.

This is not emulation of any kind. You need a full, legitimate copy of Windows XP to install on your Mac and it runs natively on the Intel processor. So yes, this is an option that is only open to owners of Intel based Macs.

It just happened that less than a week before Apple released Boot Camp I had managed to find an alternative for the last bit of software that I needed to boot up my Windows machine for. But, well, I had to take a look at it - just to see what all the fuss was about.

It all worked smoothly enough for me. I set up the tiniest partition for Windows to live on, just 5GB. There was part of me that was thinking that I could actually use this as a way to run Photoshop at a reasonable speed for the next 12 months while we wait for CS3 to come out.

To be honest, having just spent a considerable amount of money to escape from Windows then it was the last thing I wanted to do. After trying it out for a couple of days I decided that I would rather have Photoshop running more slowly under Rosetta on the Mac than have to fire up Windows every time I wanted to use it.

And then just as the Boot Camp hysteria was reaching a peak there’s the beta of Parallels Workstation to take a look at too!

Parallels uses a different idea altogether - virtualisation. Using Parallels you can run a full copy of Windows XP, or for that matter many other operating systems, in a window right there on your Mac desktop. This has the appeal of not needing to reboot to run the other operating system, but there is some performance drag effect of running two operating systems on your Mac at the same time. Not only is OS X making a demand on your processor, disks and memory, Windows is too at the same time. When you consider that a workable minimum to do anything much in Windows XP is probably 512MB or 256MB at a pinch then you can see that the more memory you have in your Mac the better if you want to go down this route.

I had played with Parallels while I was waiting for my Mac to appear, it is also available for Windows and I was using it to try out a few different Linux distributions.

I have to say that Parallels does a fantastic job. I was able to run Photoshop CS2 on Windows XP at quite a comfortable speed right here within OS X - really quite impressive.

However, you are still running Windows, and as I said earlier, I had just made quite a financial investment to say “cheerio” to Windows after many years of trying to get it out of my life.

I can see myself registering Parallels and using it to mess around with other operating systems from time to time. It’s great to be able to do all of that without having to repartition your disk and dual boot - much nicer all around. But I really can’t see myself wanting to run Windows on it for the reason outlined above.

Either of these technologies might be useful to you if you’ve just switched to Mac and there are one or two Windows applications that you are still running. If you’re happy going back to running Windows again, and having to worry about spy-ware and viruses again then this might be a solution for you. Myself, I’m happier running one or two things a bit slowly until Universal Binary versions are available for the Mac. Nice to know the option is there if I’m pushed, but I would have to be pushed very hard!

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Software’s the key

In my previous post I was talking about the importance of finding Universal Binary versions of applications. Today I’m going to expand on that theme a little and talk about some of the software I’ve found useful since making the switch (whether UB or not).

1. XNJB - Richard Low - Freeware - Universal Binary

I’ve talked about XNJB here before, but it was such a wonder to find this bit of software that it belongs right here at the top of the list for me. XNJB permits me to use my Creative Labs Zen Touch MP3 player on Lola (my Intel Mac Mini Core Duo). It seems to work with a wide range of the Creative Labs players, so if you have one and think that now you’ve switched to Mac you’re going to have to buy an iPod - go check this one out.

Two main things to note about XNJB :-

a) If you buy music from iTunes then you won’t be able to play these tracks on your Zen due to digital rights management. The only work around for this is really to burn a CD from iTunes containing the tracks you want on your Zen and then re-rip this disk back into iTunes. You can then transfer and play these tracks on your Zen. Of course there is some quality loss in doing this as you’re adding an extra couple of generations - but it probably won’t be too noticeable.

b) XNJB does not yet support synchronisation. It is on the list of ‘things to do’ for the developer - so worth checking back from time to time.

2. SyncupX - Freeride Coding - Shareware - Universal Binary

One of the first things I was looking for after Lola arrived was a simple and efficient way of backing up all my data. Under Windows I used a shareware application to synchronise certain folders to an external firewire hard disk. I was looking for something similar for the Mac.

SyncupX is that application. I find it fast and easy to use and was the first piece of shareware I registered for my Mac.

The application comes with certain pre-programmed locations that it is aware of to select from, for example ‘~/library/Mail’ or ‘~/library/KeyChains’. Or of course you can add in any folder you like to the backup.

The initial backup will copy everything in the selected locations to the destination you select. Subsequent backups only copy the changes. Any files that have been deleted since your last backup are put into a ‘removed’ folder on the backup medium, so if you zap something, then do a backup before realising what you’ve done, you can still recover the file from there.

There is an inbuilt restore function, or you can simply drag and drop the files from the backup media if you do need to recover anything (probably the easiest if there’s just one file or folder you need to restore).

At the time I registered, a single user license was $20, money very well spent in my opinion.

3. DIM 4.0 - Alan Light - Freeware - Java

DIM, or Digital Image Mover, is something I had been using under Windows for the last several months. I know most Mac users might favour iPhoto for pulling photos from their camera or memory card. I like to maintain my own folder structure and DIM does just what I need.

It’s a Java application so you can run it just as well under Windows, Mac OS, Linux, or anything else you have a Java runtime engine for.

4. Sharepoints - HornWare - donationware - PowerPC

Having a small home network this one has come in quite handy, and it really doesn’t matter that it’s not Universal Binary as all it’s doing is editing various config files for you (note: the preference pane version wouldn’t work for me, and I’m assuming that is because it is not UB - the application version runs fine though)

Sharepoints lets you easily share any folder you like and sets up permissions from a nice easy to use GUI.

5. VueScan - Hamrick Sofware - Shareware - PowerPC

This is another one I used under Windows, but is also available for Mac, and it has been a life safer for me. My Canon scanner wasn’t supported natively under OS X on Intel. I remembered this, downloaded it, installed it, plugged in my scanner - and off it went.

VueScan offers a lot of advanced options for handling your scanning, typically a lot more than the driver software supplied with your scanning. Luckily it also gives you the option to use either a basic interface :-

Or an advanced interface :-

If your scanner isn’t supported under OS X yet, it’s worth giving VueScan a try. Come to that, it’s worth giving VueScan a try even if your scanner is supported under OS X as it gives so much control over the scanning process and will probably give you additional features that your original scanner drivers didn’t give you access to.

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A picture tells a thousand words

Okay, looking back over the last few postings something is obvious to me.

I need more pictures in here!

Too much solid text. I’ll get that fixed going forwards and see if I can put a few more in previous posts also.


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Quest for the Universal Binary

As the proud new owner of Lola, a Mac Mini Core Duo, it soon became very clear to me that the above logo was the sweetest sight on the net.

Of course, I was aware that I was buying into new technology when I ordered Lola. I was aware that any program compiled to run on a PowerPC processor was going to require the use Rosetta, an emulation layer, to run on my Intel powered Mac.

Now, Rosetta actually does a damn fine job most of the time. Sometimes the only way you’ll know if an application is PowerPC is the slightly longer than average load time and a quick check in Activity Monitor.

Other times it’s more obvious.

Some applications that I had earmarked for use when I got my shiny new Mac just wouldn’t work at all under Rosetta. NeoOffice was one.

I have stated before that my one ‘killer app’ is Photoshop. This is where I was going out on a limb a little bit. I have Photoshop CS2 and Adobe have stated that Photoshop will not become a Universal Binary until the release of CS3 and that will probably be in the 2nd quarter of 2007. That’s a whole year away.

Photoshop CS2 does run under Rosetta. Indeed after downloading any patches Adobe had released it runs quite solidly. Solidly and slowly. It is useable, it works - but if you used the thing to make a living I don’t think you could put up with it.

I am aware that it is possible to transfer my Windows license for Photoshop over to the Mac. However my plan was to download the evaluation version, run that for a while and only transfer my license if I felt it ran well enough.

There will be more about Photoshop at some point in the next few posts.

For the most part I have been able to find software that runs natively on the Intel processor. There is only one application in the ‘top drawer’ of my toolbox which is PowerPC - Adobe GoLive 6.

Yes, it’s ancient, but it does what I need. Even if I was to spend £200 to upgrade to the latest version of either Dreamweaver or GoLive then it would still be a PowerPC application and to be quite honest I really don’t need all the new features either. My main web site is composed of static pages with photos on them. Lots of static pages, it’s true - but nothing I need anything fancy for. The main thing is to have site management features like Dreamweaver or GoLive have.

To be frank, I was quite disappointed with what was on offer in the world of Mac web editing. Of course you can get both Dreamweaver and GoLive for the Mac, but I couldn’t spend that kind of money. More in my range were Freeway Express or Rapidweaver, both of which I’m sure are just fine if they work how you like. I didn’t feel comfortable with the template paradigm these, or the bundled iWeb, offered. It was all a bit too ‘painting by numbers’ for me.

Also in my price range were quite a lot of hardcore, code by hand HTML editors. Again, nothing wrong with them as such, but I really needed something that was WYSIWYG. I don’t have the time or the expertise to code things by hand anymore.

There just seemed to be a gulf between the lower cost tools and the Dreamweaver end of the market in terms of both price and functionality.

Well, I was sorted with my ancient GoLive 6 and that will do the job for me until such time as I can find a suitable, affordable alternative. And preferably one that’s Universal Binary!

The trickiest aspect of owning one of the Intel Macs is drivers. I know what the marketing spiel says ‘plug it in - it works’ and a lot of the time that’s true. It is probably true even more of the time with the well established PowerPC processor.

It does seem that Apple have worked well on printer drivers. The Tiger installation disk has support for loads of printers by Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark. Fortunately both my Canon i950 and my elderly HP LaserJet 6L are supported.

I’m not so lucky when it comes to my scanners.

My flatbed is a CanoScan N656U. Plug that in and OS X won’t even tell you it’s there. My film scanner… well, that is an Acer ScanWit 2720S and it needs a SCSI adapter to plug into, so I kinda knew I was onto a loser there anyway.

As luck would have it I have a license for VueScan Pro, bought to get the most out of my film scanner a few years ago. Luckily enough I’d invested in the Pro license which gives me perpetual upgrades. I had soon replaced my old serial number with a shiny new one and VueScan Pro started talking to my CanoScan without batting an eyelid. Big thumbs up to Hamrick Software!

I am left wondering what to do about scanning my old colour slides and negatives though. To be honest that film scanner is on the way out anyway. It needs replacing. I had been eying up the Canon 8400F, a flatbed with film adapter that is reasonably priced and got a good review in a recent issue of Amateur Photographer.

Looking through Canon’s support information for this scanner I could see no mention of Intel Macs. I decided to ask for some pre-sales support before just going out to buy one anyway. I’m glad I did :-

There have been some compatibility issues with the new Intel Macs. The issue is under investigation and we would suggest that you regularly check the Canon website for updates on compatibility.

So, I guess I’ll keep checking back.

Hamrick Software do say that VueScan will work the 8400F, but only after installing various bits of the Canon supplied software - which I’m sure will be compiled for PowerPC. So, I’m going to sit tight for now and wait.

And before I end for now, what have Apple got against USB webcams? The whole world uses them, but not Apple, oh no!

Of course they have their £100 iSight camera to sell, which admittedly is a lovely bit of kit but there is no way on Earth I can justify spending £100 on one.

I have a perfectly good Logitech QuickCam Pro 5000, it’s only a few months old, it works like a dream under Windows. I just don’t see why it shouldn’t do likewise on the Mac.

There are a couple of people who might produce third party drivers for this camera, IOExperts is one, the Macam project is another. I’m not holding my breath on either.

And NO I’m not going to buy an iSight. Apple - pull your finger out. Live up to your hype. ‘Plug it in - in works’ - remember that? Well then…

Yeah, I can plug in my miniDV video camera and use that as a webcam if need be - but it does feel a little bit like overkill!

Right, time to get ready for work now. More later…

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A quick one before I head off to bed

I mentioned podcasts in my previous posting. One podcast that I have subscribed to recently and I have learned a lot of Mac stuff from is The Mac Observer Mac Geek Gab. I’m listening to a back issue as I type. Recommended listening.


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The biggest hurdle?

One of the things I didn’t really think about when ordering Lola (my Mac Mini Core Duo) was that my MP3 player of choice was not (shock horror) an iPod!

True, I do own a wee iPod Shuffle, 512MB and I do sometimes still use it. It’s very small and light and if I just want something to listen to for a little while then the Shuffle does the job.

However, my main MP3 player is a Creative Labs Zen Touch 20GB.

An MP3 player really only became an important item for me during the last twelve months. This was mainly due to podcasts. The first one I had really become hooked on was Tips From The Top Floor and now podcasts have become an important source of news, information and entertainment for me.

I was quite astonished to find that I could use my Zen on my Mac. If I had one of the older PowerPC models then I might even have been able to integrate the Zen within iTunes. However I had an Intel Mac and the plugin wouldn’t work for me.

What I did find was an excellent piece of software called XNJB. XNJB works a treat! The only thing that is missing from it that I really would like to see is synchronisation - but that is on the ‘to do list’ of the developer so I’m hopeful of seeing it sometime. XNJB is free software, open source and a Universal Binary! What more could you ask?

Talking of which, one of the handy resources I found during my two weeks wait for Lola to arrive was Open Source Mac. I’ll add a link to it in the sidebar.


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‘Lola’ arrives

After very nearly two weeks of waiting my Mac Mini Core Duo arrived on March 16th 2006. I had ordered a 1.66Ghz machine with 1GB of RAM and a 100GB hard drive. Here you can see a photo of it taken shortly after unpacking. It’s sat on top of my old Windows tower system, a system that it now completely replaces. Although it’s quite hard to get an idea of the size of the Mini from this shot, you might just about be able to see the 3.5″ floppy drive situated at the top of my tower system and get some idea of scale from that.

During my two week wait for the machine to arrive I had been doing a fair bit of research and downloading some software so that I was ready to go when it finally arrived.

One thing I should make clear before going any further is that my Mac Mini has a name, she is called ‘Lola’. This was inspired by my three year old daughter’s current favourite books and TV show : ‘Charlie and Lola‘. This was one of the things I decided upon during my two week wait.

Lola took her place in my computer den, which is already crammed full of computer equipment. This is the room that houses my Windows tower, a Linux mail server and now my Mac Mini.

I had set up my Linux and Windows box to run off a KVM switch and they were both feeding into the VGA port of my Viewsonic LCD panel. I had invested in an Apple keyboard for Lola, and I also plugged in my most comfortable Microsoft mouse, an IntelliMouse Optical. I never have liked Apple mice. Sorry. I guess they’re getting closer with the ‘Mighty Mouse’, but I was having to get Lola up and running on a tight budget. A Mighty Mouse was not on the agenda. My LCD has a DVI input so Lola was plugged into that for maximum display quality.

I loved the experience of switching the little thing on for the first time. The Apple ‘chime’ was something I wasn’t expecting. The boot up screen seemed suitably minimalist and then I was soon into the set-up process.

It didn’t take long. OS X had correctly subscribed to the DHCP server on my router so I had internet access from the very start. I tend to keep the DHCP address space for WiFi connections only (it’s handy for guests), so one of the first things I did once she was up and running was to set a fixed IP address on my network.

After enjoying the ‘Welcome to OS X’ video I was ready to get to know this thing. Where does that video live? I’d like to watch it again sometime!


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How I ended up ordering a Mac Mini

Okay, so I’ve been a Windows user for about 14 years or so.

Before my first PC I had various home computers, my first being a Sinclair ZX81 bought with savings from my paper round. I upgraded that for a Sinclair ZX Spectrum and that stayed with me until I bought my Amiga 500 in 1988.

It was while I was using my Amiga that I first went online. I started using FidoNet and the best client software I could find for using FidoNet ran on the PC. I had a software PC emulator that I used for a while, and then I bought a hardware add-on that gave me a 286 on a card. I split my Amiga’s hard disk 10MB for Amiga, 10MB for PC and I guess I used it this way for quite a while.

Eventually I decided that I really had to get a PC. It was the way everything was going. I got a 486 dx2 66Mhz based machine and from then until about 3 weeks ago I was running Windows.

This is not to say that I ever particularly got on well with Windows. When it worked it was okay, but I always seemed to spend more time sorting out problems that it created than actually using the darned thing. I was always looking for alternatives.

In 1994 I started using OS/2 Warp. I also started to play with various Linux distributions. I still remember the thrill of recompiling my kernel for the first time. But what it all boiled down to was software. The software I wanted to use ran on Windows and whilst both OS/2 and Linux permitted the use of some Windows applications with varying degrees of success, well, it just seemed like it wasn’t worth all the hacking about when I could just, well, run them under Windows.

I used to play games quite a lot, and I ended up getting interested in online gaming. First it was Doom and Quake and then I discovered the all absorbing worlds of MMORPGs. Ultima Online, Everquest, Nexus, FFXI, World of Warcraft… I used to spend far too much time playing those games. Again, these all ran nicely under Windows so I was happy.

Over the last couple of years or so my interest in games has dwindled. My creative side reawakened, largely thanks to purchasing my first DSRL camera, a Canon 20D. Now my killer application was no longer a game, but Photoshop. I bought Photoshop CS2 for the PC and happily set to learning how to use the beast.

But Windows frustrations continued. I was sick to death of having to run a whole suit of applications just to keep Windows ’secure’ - anti-virus, software firewall (I was already behind a hardware one), several anti-spyware programs. I had long ago ditched using Internet Explorer and never used Outlook for email - but the security threats were still there.

Even without those then Windows just seemed to get it’s knickers in a twist periodically and I would have to just resign myself to reinstalling the whole thing from scratch. Admittedly, the frequency with which I had to do this had subsided over the years. It was almost a standing joke with my friends that I re-installed Windows 95 every few weeks - and it was true - from floppy disk at that! Windows 2000 and Windows XP were certainly a lot more stable, but the malware threat seemed to just keep increasing.

I think that it reached a critical point last year. I was having to reinstall Windows XP yet again. I had my ‘re-install DVD’ handy, a disk I made up to have all the latest drivers and updates for software I used easily available for when I had to re-install Windows. I had recently changed my video card and I’d forgotten to put the latest version of the Omega Drivers on the disk. I just fired up IE, Googled for Omega Drivers and clicked on the link. As soon as the page fired up I knew I’d been had. I should have known better than to go online at all before I’d installed my anti-virus. I sighed to myself as my machine was riddled with various bits of malware as soon as the page opened. I could have tried to clean them all up of course, but seeing as how I had a clean install I just went back and did it again so that there was no nagging doubt about any of this crap being left behind on my system.

In my search for an alternative OS I had always overlooked OS X and the Mac because I just didn’t think I could afford one. The machines seemed very expensive for what you got, and that was the only way to run OS X. I loved the look of the OS and I loved the stability and security it offered. But there was no way I could justify the expense.

With Apple’s announcement of their plans to use Intel chips last year, my interest was rekindled. Maybe, just maybe they would produce a shrink wrapped version of OS X that would install on a standard PC? It seemed unlikely, after all, Apple primarily make their money from selling hardware.

I kept playing with Linux, but the inability to run Photoshop kept driving me away. Sure I could use The Gimp, but I’d made quite an investment in Photoshop and I wasn’t going to throw that down the drain.

My need to run Photoshop clarified the choices I had. Photoshop would run on two platforms, Windows or Mac. Did I want to carry on using Windows? I took a look at the Beta of Windows Vista and decided that I really didn’t like the look of what was coming down the line from Microsoft. 5 whole years since Windows XP had been introduced, and this is the best they can manage? OS X still seemed to be light years ahead.

And then at the end of February 2006, Apple announced the introduction of their Intel based Mac Mini. I’d looked at the Mac Mini before but had been put off, as ever, by thinking of all my investment in the Windows platform over the years. This time it felt different. If I was ever to make a break away from Windows then I would wave goodbye to most of that investment anyway. I could run Photoshop on a Mac and that seemed to be all that mattered.

I read up on OS X and drooled at the possibilities. It won me over. On Friday March 3rd 2006 I placed my order for my Mac Mini. It was to be the Core Duo, with 1GB of RAM and a 100GB hard disk. And most importantly, it would of course come pre-installed with OS X Tiger and iLife 06.

It seemed like a very long two weeks while I waited for my Mac Mini to be delivered.


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What’s it all about?

I’ve had various web pages online for very nearly 10 years now (main presence being Prehistoric.org.uk), yet this is my first ‘blog’. So why am I doing this?

  • Well, I was curious about ‘blogs’, I have to confess that I never really saw the point until just now.

  • I have recently made ‘The Switch’ from using Windows to using a Mac and I felt I had things to say about the experience.
  • I realised that there were all kinds of things that I might want to write about - mainly revolving around technology and photography and I wanted a quick and easy way to get it all online.

So yeah, I guess quite a bit of this blog (at least initially) is going to be a ‘Switcher Blog’, but I hope to move into lots of other things as time progresses.


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