Mac Life – Part 5 – Living In Cloud Cuckoo Land

Cloud based services are the future but in the here and now they’re still pretty good. Set them up, have a play, and sit back and watch them evolve into indispensable services…

In previous blog posts I’ve mentioned cloud services including Mobile Me, Evernote and Dropbox. The big idea is to make it possible to get at my emails and data from anywhere with an internet connection but it has taken me years to figure out the advantages, limitations and feasibility of working with my data in the clouds.

Cloud Based Calendar and Contact Sharing
Apple’s MobileMe service has this covered and can keep your contacts and calendar appointments up to date and synchronised across all your machines, including Windows, Mac and iPhones.

Cloud Based File Sharing
iDisk is part of MobileMe and gets you 10Gb online storage where you can store files and share them via a public folder with other users but what I really want to do is share folders with other MobileMe users, friends and collaborators and I don’t think that’s possible at the moment. Until then it’s most useful feature is to share files between my Macs, virtual PC and iPhone.

Unlike MobileMe Dropbox makes it really easy to share files and collaborate with other people. Dropbox offers you 2Gb of FREE storage to get started with extra free storage if your friends sign up via your referral link and there’s a paid Pro upgrade option if you need 50Gb or more storage.

There are other online file storage services floating around but Dropbox is free and easy to set up and use so I haven’t had any reason to try the alternatives.

Sharing Notes & Documents
I use EverNote which is an awesome FREE cloud based service, with paid upgrade options, that’s perfect for sharing searchable notes across all my machines and with my iPhone. Visit the Evernote website and watch the video tutorials which will blow your mind.

Email handling
Moving my huge archive of Outlook email has been my biggest headache. Fate intervened and I lost years of old emails when my PC hard drive failed as I was porting them across to the Mac!

I’m using Mozilla’s Thunderbird on the Mac and to port the email across from the PC I used a nifty utility called Email Alchemy with memory booster active which works well – unless a hard drive fails on you.

In a blog posted titled Only Send Me Junk Mail From Now On! I explain why it’s better if you don’t email me with anything important. I’m still trying to arrive at a workable solution and the current state of play is to use Mailwasher Pro to look at all the emails sitting in my mailboxes across various accounts and services and delete and reply to anything urgent from there.

I think the way forward is to use google mail. When setting up new projects, especially where I’m collaborating with other people, we’ve been using Google Apps and the free google email services looks like the most workable solution for large volumes of email so far.

Project Sharing & Project Management
Google Apps is where it’s at. It’s another awesome free service which makes it possible to share spreadsheets and documents between collaborators online and in real-time and access them from anywhere using a web browser on any machine, PC, Mac or PDA.

Using a shared Google spreadsheet you can see other people editing cells in real time and chat with them at the same time. I hardly ever need to use Excel anymore, another MS application consigned to the scrapheap with no tears goodbye.

I’m not sure if chatting in real-time is strictly a cloud service or not but it remains a crucial part of the way I work in the clouds. The real-time chat mode in Google Apps and MSN make it easy to keep up to date with any project.

Cloud Based Multimedia Sharing
My son lugs around a heavy case stuffed with DVDs and music CDs, he thinks he owns them. I’m past that. Being in possession of shiny silver disc means nothing. You can’t own music, TV programs or movies – they belong to the original creators and all you ever have is permission to listen or watch them so I’ve been content to have my music delivered to my ears via iTunes and more recently Spotify which only stores files locally on your iPhone for offline listening.

iTunes now offers Home Sharing which allows your to share your media between up to five machines which reminds me of my Apple Inspired Vision Of The Future posted back in 2007 – it’s all coming together nicely.

Conclusion – Was Mac-Switching Worthwhile?
Unsurprisingly, given I started writing this on my PC and I’m finishing it on my Mac, the short answer is YES.

My Mac setup is an excellent affiliate marketing environment which means I can work from my office desk or get away from my desk by removing four cables and I’m good to go with my entire working environment without rebooting – it’s an almost perfect fusion of desktop PC and portable laptop.

The biggest remaining challenge is figuring out the best way to organise local file storage and sharing. Although cloud services are the future they’re still slow and need an internet connection so I still need to store some data, music and pictures locally.

Everything is backed up to a Mac Time Capsule so if the machine breaks or gets stolen I can, in theory, restore everything from the last backup at the click of a button.

So that’s my Mac Life, how’s yours?

Mac Life Part 6 answers readers questions…

Back to MacLife Part 1…

Save

Save

Mac Life – Part 4 – Running Windows Programs On A Mac

Ok, you’ve got your Mac, you’ve still got your PC and you’ve set up Windows so it runs on your Mac, now it’s time to set up any Windows programs you still need and make sure they work before you finally shutdown your PC for the last time.

Most of the issues I’ve experienced can be resolved or minimised by tweaking the settings in your virtual machine or by changing the way you work, particularly how and where you store and share files which I go into more detail in Part 5.

Generally speaking most software applications run just like they do on real Windows machines but even with a top spec Mac the trade-off is speed – you are effectively running 2 computers on one machine so the more grunt your CPU has and the more memory you have installed the better.

Here’s how I got the following Windows programs up and running on my Mac, your mileage may vary.

Affmeter Pro – On the Mac
Once you’ve used Affmeter Pro manually logging into each network to check stats seems tedious and inefficient so here’s how I migrated my copy.

Download the original archive from the link in your original registration email somewhere you can get at it from Windows running on your Mac.

From within your virtual PC open the affmeter archive and it will prompt you to install the Microsoft .Net framework. On the Windows update site select the runtime version which will take some time and then install updates.

Next, make sure Affmeter Pro is not running on either machine then copy Affmeter Pro’s data file:

C:Program FilesAffmeterDataaffdata.afx

to the AffmeterData folder within the PC environment on your Mac.

Run Affmeter Pro and enter your serial number which is also included in your registration email.

That’s it. I have had a few issues upgrading between versions but it generally runs fine under Parallels.

Mailwasher Pro – On the Mac
There is an old Mac version of Mailwasher Pro but don’t waste your time with it because the current PC release is much better. You can download the current release version from the Firetrust site here:
http://www.firetrust.com/download/mailwasher-pro

Install within the PC environment on your Mac, cut and paste your registration key from your original registration email. To migrate your blacklist, friends, filters and training data to your new installation you have to copy some files.

Open the About Mailwasher dialog from the Help menu and enable the extended error logging checkbox.

On your original PC open the About Mailwasher dialog from the Help menu and enable the extended error logging checkbox.
Click on the path below to open MailWasher data files directory:

C:Documents and SettingsJoeApplication DataMailWasherPro

Within the PC environment on your Mac open the About Mailwasher dialog from the Help menu and enable the extended error logging checkbox.
Click on the path below to open a window displaying the MailWasher Pro data files directory and shut down Mailwasher Pro.

Now copy the Training folder, blacklist.txt and filters.txt from your orginal PC to the Mac.

Relaunch Mailwasher Pro. At the time I switched there was a problem with the mailpv.exe in the download archive so I had to manually recreate my mailboxes so if it’s not fixed by the time you switch you’ll have to do that as well.
Preferences are not migrated so I suggest running Mailwasher Pro on both machines and going through the Options dialog making sure everything is set up to your preferences. Finally you can toggle off the extended error logging checkbox.

I use the Mailwasher Pro preview window extensively to follow links and write Quick replies to emails and with the Parallels environment on the Mac these actions will open the default PC mac client (usually Outlook Express) and default PC web browser (Internet Explorer) but since the aim is to go Mac I was pleased to discover Parallels can be set to open internet applications either to the default PC or Mac applications – in my new Mac setup that’s Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird.

You’ll find these settings in the Virtual Machine Configuration dialog under Internet Applications.

Quickbooks Pro – On the Mac
Every affiliate needs to keep HM Revenue & Customs happy so you’re going to need some accounting software. I’ve been using Intuit’s Quickbooks Pro for years and although there is a Mac version it’s only available for the US market. A UK edition has been promised for years but I wouldn’t hold your breath – I’m STILL waiting Intuit!

The PC version runs fine within the Parallels environment on a Mac I just have trouble getting it to play ball with the my Mac network printer for which Boujour for Windows, another mac innovation, comes in handy.

Mac Life Part 5 covers using Cloud based services…

Back to MacLife Part 1…

Save

Save

Mac Life – Part 3 – It’s Decision Time

Once you’ve made the decision to switch from PC to Mac and BEFORE you make the switch is the time to think carefully about the hardware you’ll need, the way you work and the applications you use.

If you haven’t already bought a Mac you can add buying a laptop or desktop machine to your research and planning. As I mentioned earlier I prefer sitting at a desk when I’m working but I eventually settled on a MacBook Pro laptop and a 24″ LED display which gives me the best of both worlds. At my desk I dock the laptop to the monitor which already has a mouse and keyboard attached along with integrated webcam and sound. To work on the laptop all I have to is disconnect 4 cables and walk, no reboot needed, it doesn’t get much better than this (one plug would be even nicer Mr Ive).

Many popular applications are available on both platforms. Most web browsers including Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office and Apple software including iTunes, QuickTime and other applications have logical alternatives on the Mac platform which are widely discussed on the Mac Switching forums which are well worth a read.

In an effort to make the time I spend working as productive as possible I’ve already been working towards using browser and cloud based applications and services including Google Apps, MobileMe, Dropbox and Evernote which leaves me with just three PC only applications I need. In my case these are:

Affmeter Pro because it gives me a quick overview of what’s happening to my affiliate income.
Mailwasher Pro because it’s the quickest way to keep an eye on all my mailboxes.
Quickbooks Pro because although there’s a US Mac version this isn’t available in the UK.

If you’re not planning on running any PC software on your Mac you can skip to Mac Life part 5 which covers cloud based services…

Before we get into the nitty gritty of setting these up on a Mac it’s time to decide how you are going to run your Windows software on your Mac. There are three main choices:

Boot Camp
Apple includes this as an optional install and it works well but you have to boot into Mac or Windows mode and I want to run both side by side and cut/paste and copy files between them in real-time so it’s a non-starter for me.

Parallels
Parallels can run Windows, Linux and pretty much any OS as a virtual machine within the Mac environment and once set up it’s an almost seamless experience. it works well and has proven reliable so I’m pleased to recommend it. There’s a free trial available so why not give it a try?

VMware Fusion
There’s a free trial available but I haven’t tried this software. It appears to offer similar features to Parallels which I’ve been using for years so, if you’re not already using Parallels, give it a try and make your own mind up before making a final decision – feel free to share your experiences by commenting below.

All three options require a legitimate copy of Windows so make sure you have that to hand before you install your chosen software.

Mac Life Part 4 covers running Windows programs on a Mac…

Back to MacLife Part 1…

Save

Save

Save

Save

Mac Life – Part 2- Virtual Machines & OS Merging

Although I’m now exclusively using Mac hardware I am still “OS merging” – I still need Quickbooks PC accounting software and down the years I’ve picked up a few other PC only applications including Mailwasher Pro and Affmeter Pro which I don’t want to be without so I’m running them using the Parallels Virtual PC software.

Virtual Machines – Better Than The Real Thing?

(If you’re not planning to run any non-Mac software you can safely skip to Mac Life Part 3)

My Atari background offers me a unique insight into the pros and cons of working with Virtual machines compared to the real thing. Atari software ran much faster on both Mac and PC hardware than it ever did on real Atari computers and I’ve run up against all the typical issues which ALL need to be addressed before finally committing to using a virtual machine:

Switching between the guest and host OS
This can involve a complete machine reboot or a keyboard shortcut and everything in-between.

Accessing software from the other OS
Parallels makes it possible to run the host and guest OS in parallel so it doesn’t get much better than this.

Accessing, moving and copying documents and files between the OS’s
You’ll need to find a way of working which makes it easy to access documents and files which need to be available across OS’s and you’re going to have to find what works best for you on a trial and error basis.
My solution is two-fold. I run a local network with shared storage and I use remote cloud services – which I’ll go into in more detail later on.

Hardware compatibility issues
If your software relied on any hardware which isn’t supported or emulated by your Virtual machine you won’t be able to use it. There’s no easy solution to this one.

Problems with peripherals
Printing is the most common area which always throws up unexpected problems.

Keyboard layout handling
The Mac and PC keyboard layouts are different. A few crucial keys are in the “wrong” place or simply missing! Switching to a Mac and continuing to use Windows software is a challenge that requires practice and a measure of perseverance and reference tables.

Mac Life Part 3 covers what I think you should do before finally making the switch…

Back to Mac Life Part 1…

Save

Save

Mac Life Part 1 – Switching to Mac

I’ve owned personal computers since 1981 and I have been looking for the perfect set-up ever since. There have been some great machines along the way and decades later thanks to the Parallels virtual PC software, which makes it possible to run PC and Mac programs side by side on a Mac, I now have the best working environment so far.

I’ve retired my last office PC so I thought I’d share my experiences and encourage anyone interested in kicking the PC habit to do the same and switch to a Mac.

Why Didn’t I Switch Earlier?

(It’s complicated, you won’t miss much by jumping to Mac Life Part 2 if you’ve already bought a Mac and want to know how I’ve set mine up.)

Because I’ve been using computers since 1981 I have decades worth of prejudice and baggage to unload. I prefer sitting at a desk using a computer with a “proper” screen, keyboard and mouse and my first Apple Mac was the unrivalled Mac Duo which cleverly combined the desktop computer experience with a neat netbook sized laptop which could be ejected and used on the move. The Duo concept remains the best computing set-up I have ever used until my current Macbook Pro setup which is why it’s taken me so long to finally make the switch.

Renegade Publishing Ltd was originally formed to publish Atari Computing magazine so the Mac versus PC debate wasn’t an issue – we were promoting Atari machines and software. However, after Atari development ran out of steam, I had no choice but to migrate from Atari to PC and Mac software at the same time Renegade Publishing Ltd evolved into online publishing and marketing, new age media in modernspeak.

The business needed accounting software and the only choices back then were Sage and Intuit Quickbooks and neither have UK versions that run on a Mac so I bought my first PC and I’ve been running both Mac and PC systems side by side ever since.

The PC versus Mac Debate
My Atari background has helped me remain objective when weighing up the pros and cons of each platform and I’ve had a longer look at both hardware platforms and operating systems than most computer users will ever have and combined with my professional background in technology and product design on this subject I really do know what I’m talking about! Here’s my overview:

Apple Pros Superb product design, headed up by Jonathan Ive, CBE, originally from Chingford, Essex, one of the world’s foremost product designers.
Reliable, out-of-the-box lifestyle solutions people love using – even if they don’t know it yet!

Apple Cons Comparatively expensive, Apple only cables, standards and conventions.

Mac OS Pros Reliable, easy to use, easy to keep up to date, generally virus free, compact, free software included which works and is easy to use for most common tasks.

Mac OS Cons If it does break, it can be serious.

PC Pros There’s a dazzling choice of hardware available which means it’s possible to build anything from a budget priced general purpose machine to a state of the art gaming platform.

PC Cons The flipside of supporting such a wide range of hardware is compatibility and software driver problems.

Windows Pros I’m struggling to think of any, help me out here Windows fans…

Windows Cons The Windows interface has never been a seamless experience and it’s very tedious to keep to date and virus free. New hardware often leads to driver and software compatibility issues.

Mac Life Part 2 covers Virtual Machines & OS Merging…

Save

Save

Save

Save