Adding a Logitech VX Nano to my wife's MacBook

I really love the trackpad on my MacBook Pro and finally got to the point where I stopped using my Logitech Mx510 mouse with it. While the trackpad doesn't give me the control that a mouse does—especially when doing fine point adjustments in an image editor—I found myself quite comfortable just using the trackpad nearly all the time.

My wife however will be a different story. Her birthday is Monday and I've pretty much put the finishing touches on the MacBook I got her. I know however that she hates trackpads and since she's already going through enough of a change from Windows to Mac I figured I would get her a decent wireless mouse to help ease the transition.

I had a couple of people on this blog mention the Logitech VX Nano as a great little mouse and decided to give that a try. Though what I really wanted was a Bluetooth based solution I heard several reports of the Bluetooth mice having interference issues and as a result not being smooth all the time.

Wireless mice are not something I'm fond of when used with a laptop. I love the concept of no wires, it's just that virtually every wireless mouse requires a USB based receiver "dongle" to be inserted into the machine in order to make it work. This is the reason I liked Bluetooth based devices, since my Macs already have a Bluetooth device built in.

Having that receiver stuck into the side of a MacBook just looks obnoxious; it appears to me like a miniature diving board or a MacBook that is really excited to see you. This is where the Logitech VX Nano is different. The VX Nano came with a transmitter that is incredibly small, basically the size of a nickel.

When plugged into the side of my wife's MacBook it only projects a very small amount:

The mouse itself is excellent. I've always been a fan of Logitech mice and the VX Nano is a good example of why. It has a really slippery smooth surface on the bottom and glides over my desktop effortlessly. The primary buttons have a good solid feel to them. The roller ball is fantastic; it has nearly zero resistance and feels like a well oiled ball bearing. Spin it and let go and you'll scroll for a very long time. It can also pan right and left which is great for really wide web pages and images. There is a button below the scroll wheel that can be customized and set to pretty much anything. I set it to activate Spaces, something I hope my wife takes to.

The only thing I don't care for are the two buttons that would traditionally map to Forward and Backward on a web browser. If you look at the picture at the top of the screen they are placed just to the left of the primary mouse button. In my quick playing around with the mouse I found those to be harder to hit than something triggered by my thumb along the left edge of the mouse.

The size of the VX Nano is a bit on the small side. It's not one of those minuature laptop mice but runs about 2/3 the size of a normal Logitech mouse. I personally prefer larger mice because I tend to rest my hand on them while using them but I found this one pretty comfortable in my limited testing. My wife has very small hands so it should be perfect for her.

The software is an update to the Logitech driver. I've had miserable luck with the Logitech drivers in the past but decided to give this one a try. I don't know if I'll stick with it given my poor experience in the past but it does give me some nice control for the device, allowing me to remap any of the buttons and fine tune scrolling and click rates.

I'm going to be giving all this to Allison on Monday which is her actual birthday. I'm a little anxious to see how she takes to all of this.

Upgrade the memory in a MacBook in 3 minutes

When I bought my wife's refurbished MacBook I got it with the smallest amount of RAM I could get, in this case 1GB. The reason is that Apple charges a lot more for memory than what you can buy from aftermarket sellers like Memory America or Other World Computing, both great resource for Mac memory and hard drives.

I purchased a 2GB memory upgrade from OWC for $41, which included the cost of shipping. For perspective if you bump the memory on a MacBook from Apple up from 1GB to 2GB there is a $100 charge for it as of this writing. The nice thing about the OWC site is that they will help you identify exactly which memory works for your model of MacBook. If you have another good resource for Mac memory please add it to the comments below.

While 1GB of memory is adequate to run OS X smoothly on a MacBook I think it's important to have as much memory as you are comfortable putting in your machine. Some applications— especially Firefox, my primary web browser—leak memory pretty badly and the longer you run those applications the lower your performance can get. As I compose this post on my Mac Pro my little iStat memory counter tells me that Firefox is using 855MB of memory. Ugh - time to restart Firefox.

The only downside to buying the memory from someone other than Apple is that you have to install it yourself or take it somewhere and have them install it for you. Installing memory on a MacBook is very simple and the only tools you need are a coin and a #0 phillips screwdriver.

While I was preparing my wife's machine I decided to put together a quick video to show how easy it is:

All told it takes about 3 minutes to do and can save you quite a bit of money by doing it yourself.

Setting up a Time Capsule

When I purchased a refurbished MacBook for my wife I also grabbed a refurbished 500GB Time Capsule from the Apple web site at the same time. At $249 it saved me $50 off the price of a new one and should provide a nice simple way to keep her MacBook backed up. Since I made the switch to Mac I've been raving about the simplicity of Time Machine and having a Time Capsule behind it sounded perfect.

Once again the device came in a non-descript cardboard box and included the Time Capsule, a package of instructions, a CD containing the AirPort Utility for configuring the Time Capsule and a power cord. I was disappointed to find that a standard ethernet patch cord was not included; fortunately I have a ton of them sitting around the house.

For those that haven't seen one a Time Capsule is a very sleek looking little device that includes not only a 500GB drive for backups through Time Machine but also has a USB port for adding printers, hard drives or even a USB hub to attach several devices. In addition to that the Time Capsule is also a full AirPort Extreme Base Station with 802.11n capabilities. The back of the Time Capsule also has a WAN port to connect to your existing network or cable modem and 3 10/100/1000Base-T ports to serve as an ethernet hub.

Setting this up was pretty straightforward. I installed the AirPort Utility on my Mac Pro and then plugged an ethernet patch cord from the WAN port on the Time Capsule into one of the ports on my local router, then plugged the power cord into a power outlet to fire it up. The Time Capsule spun for a little while then finally settled in and had a blinking amber light on the front display.

I loaded up the AirPort Utility and it quickly saw the Time Capsule and allowed me to connect to it. The AirPort Utility has a wizard style interface that walks you through some basic questions on how you want the device configured. The first thing it did was tell me that a firmware revision was available and asked if I wanted to upgrade it. That took all of a few minutes to do:

With that out of the way I went about configuring it. For my purposes I am using it as another wireless access point to connect to my network, I set up WPA2 as the security model and made sure to create a closed network. This means that the SSID of the Time Capsule is not broadcast, giving an extra level of security. At some point I am going to really go through my entire network at home and make it more secure.

Starting Up Time Machine
I grabbed the new MacBook I am giving my wife this weekend for a birthday present and started the process of connecting it to the Time Capsule. Since I named my wife's MacBook "Hope" (per Rasterman's suggestion that I "hope" she likes it), I decided to name the Time Capsule "Faith" as in "I have faith that my files are being backed up".

The MacBook immediately saw "Faith" and with a couple of clicks I had Time Machine pointing at it and beginning the process of backing it all up. Though this is a freshly minted machine I had already moved her iTunes collection over and reset all of her playlists, pushed in her existing files, etc. All told she had 34GB of data to back up. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it only took about 3.5 hours to complete the backup.

The amusing thing is that when Time Machine kicks in it mounts the Time Capsule drive and it appears on the MacBook's desktop as "Backup of Hope":

It sounds like some kind of campaign slogan to me. 'Tis the season I guess. Once the backup completed the drive disappeared from the desktop. I checked it all out and sure enough, Hope's files are backed up on Faith.

Part of the Backup Strategy
With four Macs actively in use in the house I have a backup plan for each. My Mac Pro has an extra 1TB drive in it that serves exclusively as a Time Machine volume. My MacBook Pro has a 1TB WD MyBook drive attached via USB that also uses Time Machine; I don't take it with me when I travel but it is an option. Now my wife and daughter's MacBooks will use the 500GB drive on the Time Capsule.

Basically every machine is backed up every hour that they are on, unless of course I get one of those stupid Time Machine errors (I really wish Apple would come up with a solution for that—it is very annoying). What's your backup strategy?

Buying a refurbished MacBook for my wife

Ah, the sound of a delivery truck in front of the house is always a welcome sound for a gear-head like me. I've gotten to the point where I can distinguish between UPS and FedEx by the squeal their brakes make. After a 1 day delay because I left the house for 15 minutes yesterday and that happened to be the window for the FedEx Ground guy, I had to wait an extra day to actually get my wife's new MacBook in hand.

As you can see from the picture below, Allison's refurbished MacBook came in a rather nondescript cardboard box, a far cry from the slick version you get when you buy new.

The machine inside however looked completely flawless. There were no marks and it appeared like a brand new machine, though it cost quite a bit less than a new one at $949. I pulled out the machine, fired it up and started to go through the registration process. It quickly saw and attached to my wireless network and after a few minutes I was sitting at the OS X desktop.

The unfortunate part was that this particular MacBook came with Tiger installed. Apple did provide an upgrade DVD which I promptly placed in the machine and started the upgrade process to Leopard. I let it perform the consistency check on the DVD so that added a lot of time to the upgrade. After about 25 minutes of checking the actual upgrade started, with estimates of over 1 hour and 50 minutes to complete. The fans on that little MacBook worked overtime, generating a lot of noise—though very little heat—during the upgrade. All in it actually took about an hour and a half to get the machine upgraded from Tiger to Leopard.

Once the upgrade from DVD was done I ran Software Update on it and it identified 14 updates for various products and over 800MB of data to download. I killed the Airport and plugged the MacBook directly into a router port so that it would download everything more quickly. As it was it only took about 10 minutes to pull everything down. Man I really love Verizon FIOS. This upgrade ended up requiring several reboots and also involved several Firmware updates as well.

Moving Over the Files
The next step involved getting her files over from her Windows XP machine. Connecting to it was as simple as popping into the Finder and selecting Go / Connect to Server, then entering the SMB address for her old laptop. I also needed to specify the user name and work group for her machine:


Where WGP is the name of the Windows workgroup her machine is in, Allison is her login name on the machine and Bethany is the name of the machine. I had to make sure her My Documents directory on the Windows XP machine were shared. Once there I could see all of her files and quickly copy them over into the appropriate folder on her new MacBook.

Other Odds and Ends
I'll write more about this shortly but I also picked up a Logitech VX Nano wireless mouse for her. In addition I have some additional memory from OWC and a 500GB Time Capsule for her backups that is due in later today.

My goal is to get this all completely set up and her files transferred over from her Windows XP laptop before this weekend so that I can give her this as her birthday present on Saturday.

As for a name for the new machine, I really appreciate all the great suggestions and decided to go with Rasterman's idea of calling it "Hope". Short, simple and represents my hope that she really likes it. That plus it has a subtle play off the Star Wars theme I like so much. It is after all a new hope.

Remaining Decision: Word, Pages or Neo Office?
Like most people on Windows Allison primarily uses MS Word though not being a power user she battles it regularly, especially when it comes to trying to format a document. She is often culling together work from others, grabbing and editing DOC and to a lesser degree DOCX files that are heavy with tables. She uses it to build worksheets for her students and quick quizzes. Finally she does use PowerPoint, both to create some presentations and also to open the public works of other teachers and integrate their content. The common medium for this seems to be PPT files from PowerPoint.

I personally think she would love the interface for Pages over the more complicated UI in Word for Mac 2008. Numbers vs Excel is a non-issue for her, though Keynote vs PowerPoint is something I'm not sure about. Throw in NeoOffice and I've got several choices to put in front of her. Given this is a full switch for her and I'm going to be holding her hand through it I'd really like to get her started on one of these three and try to make the best of it, switching only if she finds that it's too difficult to deal with.

Any suggestions? If you're a teacher at the high school level you likely know the challenges she has to deal with in terms of integration with multiple formats. If so, I'd love to hear your perspective.

Skype + LaunchBar = Ultimate Landline Style Phone

Though I started playing with Skype a couple of months ago I did it primarily as an alternate video conferencing option to iChat. My family members in California running Windows never seemed to be able to get their video based AIM tools to work, yet once they installed Skype we were able to hook up quickly and easily. All was good and Skype became my occasional use tool for chatting with the family and a few Skype enabled friends.

The nice part about using Skype this way is that it's completely free. Skype doesn't allow you to call a land line for free though; for that you can pay as you go or set up a monthly account that gives you voicemail and unlimited calls (10K minutes) to various parts of the world. For access here in the US to any number in the US or Canada the cost is $2.95 / month. While you can't use it to place calls to 911, it's excellent for making a call wherever you happen to have a decent internet connection. That's what I set up - unlimited calls to the US and Canada.

The other option available with Skype is purchasing your own local phone number and having it tied to your Skype account. By doing this people with land lines can dial directly into your computer if you are running Skype. Don't have it running? The call rolls to voice mail, which you can see the next time you fire up Skype.

Using Skype
The calls to people through Skype—both to other Skype users or to people on land lines—are very clear. On my MacBook Pro I will occasionally get some very mild feedback if the volume is cranked up too high but it's very minor; a headset solves that problem. On my Mac Pro with a USB based microphone (and no video camera), the sound quality is excellent.

I've mentioned before that I'm a big LaunchBar fan. When you combine LaunchBar with Skype you get some great integration and the ability to call people very easily. Since LaunchBar can pull names out of my Address Book it makes looking up phone numbers and calling people very simple.

As an example, if I wanted to call my buddy Stuart I activate LaunchBar (Command-Space) and enter "stu". His name is displayed in LaunchBar from his Address Book entry. I hit the right arrow and then select his phone number (work or cell), then hit Return. Skype fires up and dials his number for me. This does take a little configuration to work properly out of the box; if you want to configure it yourself go to the LaunchBar help and search for Skype.

Additional LaunchBar Scripts for Skype
A gentleman named Dennis created a nice series of AppleScripts to control Skype from LaunchBar that really help out a lot. The ability to quickly call any number is there as well as the ability to hang-up the Skype call.

If for example I want to hang up a call I don't need to mouse over to the Skype window and poke at the red "Hang Up" button (unless I want to); I simply hit Command-Space and enter "hang", Return and the call is terminated. This is something I really appreciate while I'm using Spaces and the Skype window is in a different region than where I am working.

I now use this set up to make most of my calls. No more looking up a phone number and dialing it manually or burning up my iPhones minutes while I'm sitting at my desk. The other benefit is when I have to call an automated system that requires touch-tone entry I don't have to pull the phone from my face to see the keypad, instead I can use the nice big numeric keypad on my large Mac Pro keyboard.

I've always loved finding productivity boosters and this is one that has created a dramatic improvement in my ability to make and deal with voice calls.

Converting my wife from Windows to Mac is about to begin

Last Saturday my wife and I went to our local Apple store with the intent of buying her a new MacBook and taking advantage of the educational offer they had; buy a qualifying Mac and get up to a $299 iPod free. My hope was that we would be able to get one of the new iPods but instead they told us we could only get either an older 8GB iPod Touch or a previous generation Nano. We decided to pass this up and simply wait a little longer since Allison's birthday isn't until the end of the month.

I thought about holding off until the next generation MacBooks are released (highly likely they will be next month) but came to the conclusion that it was better to simply get her a new machine right now instead of waiting. I want to have the machine in-house and set up for her so that she has it for her birthday.

I've had good luck with Apple Refurbished systems—my Mac Pro being one of them—so I decided to go that route. Since her needs are really minimal and she likes both of my daughter's MacBooks I went with the least expensive MacBook I could find in the refurbished deals section:

White MacBook
2.16 GHz Core Duo
1GB Memory
120GB HD
8X Superdrive

While a pretty entry level machine it's more than powerful enough to handle the basic web surfing, e-mail and word processing that Allison does. The $949 price was great too. I also picked up a refurbished 500GB Time Capsule for her at $249 and added in Apple Care to round it all out. The way I see it the Time Capsule should be just what she needs to keep Time Machine working for her behind the scenes.

On my short list to pick up for her are a Bluetooth mouse and some additional RAM. Given the low price of memory I'll likely overbuy there and go with 4GB since there is no such thing as too much RAM, especially with Firefox leaking like crazy.

The other challenge will be to see if she wants to use Microsoft Office or iWork. I personally bought iWork and moved to that after my trial of Microsoft Office left me feeling... meh. Pages is a much less complex product and I may try to get her to give that a shot instead of Word.

So the countdown to converting my wife from Windows to Mac is on. The machine is due early next week and I'll be giving it to her that weekend. Hopefully before then I can get all of her files on the machine and set it all up for her so that she can just jump right in and start using it.

A little help with a name
One thing I could use help with; I'll need to name the machine. She's a high school teacher now but is also an accomplished attorney that served as a child advocate for many years. For her sake I want to avoid the Star Wars themes I've used for names since she's apparently allergic to science fiction.

Some quick terminal keystroke shortcuts

When I made the switch to Mac from Windows one of the things that I enjoyed the most was having access to a full featured console window. The Terminal in OSX is much more powerful than the Command shell in Windows out of the box. Not only do I have quick access to all of the great Unix commands for things like file viewing and management, I can quickly SSH into my remote Linux based servers very easily.

Most people are aware of the standard things you can do in a Terminal shell, much like you can do in a Windows Command prompt: hit the up arrow to cycle through previous commands and hit the Tab key to help complete the name of a directory/folder. There are a couple of other things that I've found that really help out:

Search Command History (Control-R)
Rather than hitting the Up Arrow 10 times to get to an older and lengthy command you can simply hit Control-R. This will give you a prompt that allows you to start typing in a command and the first match it finds from your command history will be displayed as you type. Since I found this I use it constantly and rarely hit the Up Arrow to repeat a previous command.

Cursor Navigation (Escape-F, Escape-B)
I'm a heavy keyboard user yet when I jump into the Terminal I feel like my fingers are tied sometimes. This is especially true when trying to navigate between words in a long command line; I hit Command-Right or Command-Left and switch tabs in my command windows. Instead of using Control modified keys the Escape key comes into play here. Hitting Escape, then hitting F (forward) or B (back) jumps the cursor from word to word in the command line. It's less efficient than hitting a Control or Command modified key but it beats standing on the Left and Right arrows.

Delete to End of Line (Control-K)
Very often I find myself executing the same command on a different target. This usually involves deleting the last portion of a previously run command. Before picking up some of these shortcuts I would simply up arrow to the previous command and then stand on the Delete key until I got to the point I wanted. Now, I use the Escape-B command to back up to the right point in the previous command and then hit Control-K to delete from that point to the end of the line.

So there are the three shortcut combinations I've found invaluable in the Terminal window, and the best part is they are pretty universal to the Bash shell so when I'm in my SSH'd into one of my Linux servers I can use them there as well.

Got a shortcut you use in Terminal that you use all the time? Drop a note in the Comments below.

I just don't get the new MS commercials

The new commercials Microsoft is running are now out, disclosing the strategy Microsoft will be employing to make the argument to buy Microsoft based products now and in the near future. Apparently the strategy is to mildly amuse people and convince us that Microsoft has some great new stuff coming out, as evidenced by Bill's subtle gestures to Jerry at the end of each commercial.

As is typical of the Windows experience, there seems to be a lot going on in these commercials, in sharp contrast to the simple presentation of products and solutions in the Apple commercials.

I chatted with a good friend of mine online that's a Windows / Linux guy about this. His portion of the chat went like this:
Jeff: here's my take
Jeff: Mac commercials - plain, simple, easy to make sense of, not too many moving parts
Jeff: Win commercials - no f'n clue what they're doing, long, bloated, inscrutable, stuff happening everywhere and you can't relate it to anything that makes sense
Jeff: I think that about sums up the OSes as well
Jeff: I swear I want to by a Mac just as a protest against these moronic commercials
I was pretty shocked to see that coming from Jeff, who has observed my conversion from Windows to Mac user with detached amusement. I'm pretty confident that Mac users watching this won't be encouraged to pitch what they are doing and get WinTel hardware when Windows 7 comes out, and I'm sure MS is aware of that. This marketing has to be targeted at the average Windows user that is considering a platform change or whether or not to continue upgrading their Windows machines.

I'm with Jeff on this one; I just don't get it.

First impressions of iTunes 8

Since iTunes was released today I figured I'd try it out and see how it worked. It was a relatively quick download and included a new QuickTime Player update as well. All told it was 54.8MB for my Mac Pro and 67.5MB for my MacBook Pro.

After a reboot iTunes was ready to roll. It asked me if I wanted to turn the Genius on. Doing so requires that your song information is sent to Apple in an anonymous form so that trends in music can be established and dynamic playlists created. Here's a link that tells you a little more about what Genius is actually doing behind the scenes.

The process of gathering this information, even on my monster of a Mac Pro with RAM and processors to spare, took a very, very long time. Granted, I have a rather large music collection, having put virtually every CD I had ever purchased into my collection, but wow. At least 3 hours, though it did work in the background and I could use iTunes to listen to my music while it was going on. Be prepared for a pretty long wait on this one.

Using iTunes
The majority of the interface remains the same, though there are now some additional options when you select Grid view. Within the grid view you can see your collection by Albums, Artists, Genres or Composers. The album art is then displayed, which really makes me wish I was more diligent about grabbing album art for my ripped CDs. This mode operates incredibly fast, scrolling very quickly through the entire collection.

There is now a Genius Sidebar that appears to the right of a selected Playlist. Apple is incorporating a lot of the iTunes store in there, something that likely will generate some more sales. Why? Well, if you select a song in your collection it shows top albums from that artist, a list of the "Top Songs You're Missing" , an "Essentials" list and finally "Recommendations". Each of the items in the list has a Buy button in it so it's really simple to grab something that catches your fancy (ie. spend some money).

I was surprised to find that the "Top Songs You're Missing" seemed to take into account what I had pretty well. I have several duplicates because of "Greatest Hits" collections, yet even when that was the only version of the song it didn't appear to recommend a song I already owned.

Listening to the Genuis
Okay, so the cool part is selecting a song from the play list and clicking on the Genius button on the lower right status bar. It immediately creates a dynamic playlist from your existing collection. It's kind of like listening to a radio station that specializes in the genre that you like to listen to. I've never been a big fan of simply listening to the random songs in my collection because it will switch from Michael Andrew's version of Mad World to Burl Ives Holly Jolly Christmas. This technically will keep you listening to music that is basically similar, though it's not without flaws in the initial version.

Listening to current, popular music seemed to generate some pretty good playlists for me. It was only when I went out on the edge that it had some trouble. I was shocked that this is what I got when I opened my 80s collections and tried to Rick-Roll myself:

Oh well, maybe that was intentional on Apple's part.

Still, I do like the Genius feature and the generation of playlists. Great way of exploring my music without having to set up playlists beforehand.

The fuss over DRM

After years of delays Electronic Arts finally released Spore, a game that allows you to create your own life forms, starting at single cell entities and moving them up through intelligent life forms that can travel into space. The hype surrounding this game has been pretty big for years, mainly because of footage released a while back showing off the creature creator in very early stages.

The game appears to be selling well in it's initial run, though not without some strong controversy over the Digital Rights Management (DRM) used in the game. Just take a look at the reviews of the game on Amazon and you can see the incredible anger people have over the DRM that's included.

As a software developer myself I understand the reason a publisher wants to have a copy protection scheme in place. All too often software and copyrighted material is simply pirated without any regard to the people that created the product in the first place.

The Software Developer Perspective
Back in 1998 I released a Windows based application called WebSurveyor that was designed to help people create, publish and analyze surveys on the web. Back then I had the mindset that it would be a pure software license; you pay my company the $149 fee and I give you a license to use the product in perpetuity. Pretty simple stuff. This product was targeted at business users and was priced far below what other office productivity software sold for at the time.

I had a basic trial mode that the application shipped in by default (unregistered) and it would only allow you to see the first ten results of your survey. If a valid registration key was entered it would unlock the software and you could see all of the results you received. After a couple of months of testing I released the product, put it on as many download sites as I could find and tried to get people to check it out.

Within 2 days of launching the product—2 days!—someone had created a serial number generator for the application. Here I was, a little software company (basically me), I had just poured 10 months of my life into a product and some script kiddie somewhere decided to eliminate the only source of revenue I could get.

I did end up selling the product very well, slowly growing sales over time. The challenge was when I would get support e-mails from people asking for help in making the application work properly, only to learn that they were working with a pirated copy of my software. Not only were they not paying for it, they were taking up my time helping them troubleshoot their problems, which back then often involved resolving their corporate firewall issues. On the occasions I would confront people about it they would either stop sending me e-mails or confess that they had pirated it but assured me that they would buy it immediately.

None of them ever did.

The Frustrated Consumer Perspective
I recently sold one of my older laptops through Craigslist and before handing it over to the new owner I decided to wipe the machine clean, reformat it and reinstall Windows from scratch. I had a full license key (stamped on the laptop itself) and went through the very time consuming process.

Once installed and ready to go it told me that I had to activate Windows. The online server would not activate me and required that I call into Microsoft, a toll free call that was completely automated. I got to read off a series of long numbers, answer some questions (yes, this is only going to be used on a single machine) and then got to painstakingly record a long series of numbers that needed to be reentered into Windows to get it to work properly.

Here I had a genuine copy of the software in question (Windows), yet I had to jump through hoops in order to prove that I indeed had a legitimate copy. Adding this to the end of what was already a time consuming process that involved finding and installing all the drivers needed to make the laptop work made me happy I was getting rid of the machine.

My feeling is that people pirate software for any number of reasons:
  1. They think the software is too expensive for what it does.
  2. They want to have an extended trial of the product and if it works then they'll buy it.
  3. They can't afford to actually buy it.
  4. They only need the software for a brief period and don't want to pay for such a short usage.
  5. They think all software should be free.
  6. It's so easy to do that they don't even think about it.
Regardless of why, the fact that it happens so often has created a challenge for both the consumer that legally purchases software as well as the software developer trying to protect their intellectual property.

I've heard the argument several times that piracy is actually good for software; that having more people use and talk about your product is a good thing and exposes people to the product that otherwise may never hear about it. Given my experience with my own products I find that laughable. People that pirate software will tell people about a product but will just as quickly offer a copy to those same people as well.

What's your perspective? Is it okay to pirate software? What level of DRM is acceptable in order to help the software, music or video publisher ensure they get paid for their efforts?

Does invisibleSHIELD really work?

Though I received a screen protector with my dermaSHOT case it recently became a bit scratched up and got a couple of small nicks in it. I figured screen protectors are kind of disposable so I went out to my local BestBuy to see what they had in stock. I looked at a couple of different products but one jumped out at me: the ZAGG invisibleSHIELD. There was only a single shield in the little box, unlike a competitor that had 5 shields in it, but it came with a lifetime warranty. Reading through the information on the box it looked like it was worth a try.

The invisibleSHIELD claims to be made from the same material designed to protect the leading edge of helicopter blades. The material itself is very durable and reminds me of the invisible car masks applied to the front of cars. I figured that anything designed to withstand supersonic gravel pelting would probably be overkill on my little iPhone but that's fine.

Turns out the invisibleSHIELD is rather difficult to apply. First off, make sure you cut out and remove the holes for the handset speaker and primary button before peeling it from its backing. Otherwise you will do what I did and realize they were not punched all the way through and then try to take it off while you're holding a very large, tacky shield, trying desperately not to get finger prints on the business side.

There is a spray and squeegee provided in the kit as well. You spray down the adhesive side of the shield and apply it carefully to the iPhone. The spray makes the shield a little moveable so you can reposition it as needed, then you start in with the squeegee and work out all of the bubbles and air pockets. This is a rather difficult process because you are basically pushing out the liquid right into the areas where the handset speaker hole is and the main button. Having a clean, soft, lint free cloth handy is important in order to ensure that you can wipe up the excess liquid before it seeps into any of the openings on your iPhone.

Once applied the surface of your iPod will feel a little different. It has an almost tacky feeling to it that does not impair the ability to use the touch surface at all. The surface itself appears impervious to anything and my iPhone's screen now seems like it could repel a high speed bird strike.

The Downside
The problem with the invisibleSHIELD is that it creates a slight distortion to the screen, though this may indeed be in the way I applied it. I followed the directions exactly but could not get what appeared to be very fine bubbles away from the top portion of the screen. While I love the protection this affords the difficulty in applying this properly and the resulting distortion means I'll be returning it to BestBuy. I looked through the warranty information on the ZAGG site and it's pretty clear that problems resulting in "installation errors" were not covered. I'll likely be going with the slightly cheaper, disposable screen shields that do not require that I apply liquid in such close proximity to my iPhone.

Last Friday ZAGG announced that they were releasing a more clear backing. Who knows, maybe that will be a little better than what I experienced.

Living with the iPhone

I've now had my 3G iPhone for just over a month. It has become my constant companion, even though my use of it as a phone is relatively light. I'm one of those people that has to have a phone handy, a habit I picked up from a decade of being deeply involved in the operation of an online service that had to be running 24x7.

The Good
I've found that nearly every day I'm using more and more features on the phone. I use the Notes feature like crazy now, jotting down shopping lists and thoughts. The e-mail capability on the iPhone is wonderful. I've adapted to the keyboard pretty well, though I'm using only my right index finger to do all the work. I wouldn't want to write a blog entry with it but quickly responding to e-mails and text messages are a piece of cake.

Browsing the web on an iPhone is fantastic, especially with a Wi-Fi connection. It will render virtually any Flash-less site and do it accurately. Some of the more complex sites can take a little while to render, especially if it's a site that has a lot of deeply nested tables, graphics and dynamic HTML. The zooming and panning within the browser are outstanding.

Text messaging with the iPhone works great, adopting the iChat bubble model from the Mac. I now am much more inclined to carry on a text message conversation with my friends and especially my kids. I've never been a big fan of text messaging, mainly because I can carry on a conversation much more quickly and get what I need done. That said, I find myself texting a lot more often now.

The phone call quality for me has been very good, especially when I'm using the ear buds that come with the iPhone. I was able to sync the iPhone up to my car's bluetooth system very easily and the call quality is very good there.

Speaking of syncing things up, the Address Book and iCal integration are also great and something I'm looking forward to my wife taking advantage of when I switch her over to a MacBook later this month.

The photo catalog on the iPhone is excellent and compliments my iPhoto collection nicely. Since I have the 16GB white iPhone I have plenty of space and put quite a few of the photos from my regular cameras into the iPhone. It's nice to sit down with people and share the photos I've taken recently.

The Bad
I've had a couple of times now that my iPhone becomes very slow, almost unresponsive at times. This was especially true when I would jump into Contacts to look someone up. Fortunately the last update from Apple cleared up most of that, though at times I've found it can still be a bit sluggish in Contacts or Safari. Since I never really shut the phone down I've found that if I do that every once in a while it does help.

My 3G connection has been excellent in my home area of Northern VA, 4-5 bars most of the time, though even with a solid connection 3G can be pretty slow at times and for data is occasionally unresponsive. Just last week we have a pretty decent outage on the data side. Most of these problems appear to be an issue with AT&T, not the iPhone. I'm not letting Apple off the hook though since AT&T is the only carrier Apple is supporting. Given the high cost of the account to have an iPhone both of these companies need to get their act together.

The battery life on my iPhone seemed great at first, though it has dropped a bit since I started keeping Bluetooth on all the time. Whereas before I could go two days between charges with fairly heavy use I now pretty much have to recharge the phone every day even with light usage. Since I don't travel all that much anymore this isn't really an issue so I haven't had to look into a battery extender like the Mophie yet.

The Add-ons
Though in the past I always had a holster/belt clip for my phone, I find myself simply stashing the iPhone in my pocket. I did purchase a protective case for my phone, a black Incipio dermaSHOT, which provides a nice layer of protection against nicks and accidental drops. The Incipio case is perfect for me; thin enough that it doesn't impact my ability to keep it in my pants pocket while walking around. On the bright side it's just tacky enough to allow me to place the iPhone on the flat, wooden surface of my car's center console and not have slide off as soon as I make a turn. On the downside that tacky surface is a great lint collector so sometimes I pull my iPhone out of my pocket and it's looks like a little grey rectangular teddy bear.

I have only picked up one game for the iPhone: HoldEm, a Texas Holdem poker game. This little $4.99 game from Apple is simply fantastic. The game does a nice job of simulating players, with some being aggressive at times and occasionally trying to bluff their way out of a bad hand. If you are at all into poker and have an iPhone this is an excellent buy for $5.

I also downloaded the free version of Twitterific, which gives me quick access to my Twitter account. I'm still experimenting with Twitter but am warming up to it pretty quickly. You can see my Twitter account here. I love that I can pump in a quick post from pretty much anywhere, like this morning while at a rest stop during my morning bike ride.

Based on the feedback of several people here I did grab the iPhone version of the NetNewsWire reader and it is pretty good. It will keep my news reader in sync though the NewsGator account I have, making it nice for keeping up on the latest stories while I'm out and about.

I've found several other application for the iPhone though none that really jumped out as worth writing about. One of the readers of this blog is working on an iPhone application that he let me take an early look at and I'm really looking forward to seeing that released. The early version I saw was excellent and I'm looking forward to talking about it when it's available.

Overall I'm really pleased that I got the iPhone for both me and my wife. It's an imperfect device to be sure, though considering all of the things it does really well the good far outweighs the bad. I ask my wife pretty regularly if she likes her iPhone and her response is still the same:

"I love it"

Using Crossover Games to run Team Fortress 2 on a Mac

One of my favorite pastimes when I was purely a Windows guy was playing games on my machine. In fact, my last Windows machine was designed from the ground up to be a gaming rig first and foremost—with gaming being a very demanding application type, everything else I needed to do was easy. About the time I got into Macs I was burnt out on the gaming scene, switching my down time to playing with my new Mac and working on this blog. Lately my favorite game from the Windows platform—Team Fortress 2—received a significant upgrade with some new game types, maps and features. I decided to check it out and see if it was as fun as I remembered.

TF2 is one of the most compelling multi-player, first person shooters I've ever played, right up there with Battlefield 2. The teamwork required to play it is pretty important to success, the player classes provide a wide range of styles for approaching the game and the graphics, music and effects are laugh out loud funny. The only problem? I couldn't play it on my now standard Mac platform, at least not without a little help.

I don't run Bootcamp because I'm not a big fan of rebooting my Mac Pro every time I want to run a Windows application. I tried using VMware Fusion to load up the game but even with the new beta installed I got terrible frame rates. I'm sure this has something to do with the video drivers that VMware is using.

Rather than trying to tweak VMware and get it to work I decided to give Crossover Games a try. They have a version specially designed to run games on Intel based Macs and had TF2 listed as one of the games they support. Crossover is based on Wine, the open source tool that allows you to run Windows applications on a Mac or Linux machine without requiring Windows.

I decided to try this out on my Mac Pro since I don't anticipate gaming on the MacBook Pro. The installation was pretty straightforward though encompasses a number of steps, all handled by the installer. It didn't take me long at all to get Steam (the application platform for launching a number of great games) up and running. I had to download the latest version of the game itself and then I was off to the races.

I was able to run it in full screen mode (1600x1200 resolution) and it worked like a champ. Excellent frame rates, no visible tearing and was very responsive. It took a couple of attempts before I was able to get it to run in a window but once that was configured correctly I got decent results, though it was a little jumpy at times:

For actual game play I'll likely run this in full screen mode. I had some problems connecting to servers initially, each telling me that the server was not responding. After trying about a half-dozen servers I was able to get in one, then after that I was able to get into nearly every one that I tried. Not sure what's up there.

Crossover Games is a nice little product for the $39.95 price. It's not nearly as smooth as running the application directly in Windows and it has some little window artifacts that pop up here and there. I'm running this on some pretty serious hardware (Mac Pro, dual 2.8GHz Xeons, 12GB RAM, scads of disk space) so I'm not sure how well a lesser machine would handle it.

On the bright side Crossover Games has a 7 day free trial so if you happen to have a PC game that they support it may be worth checking out. Oh yeah, TF2 is still a complete blast to play. Just watch this video to get an idea of the sense of humor the designers of the game have: