May 20, 2013
About a week ago I tried out Wunderlist to handle my to-do list. I’ve been using it every day since then — it’s now my official to-do list management tool.
The app is available for iPad, iPhone, and Android. It’s free for basic use; there’s a “Pro” version that’s $5/month that allows you to share and assign to-dos to others, for collaborative tasks.
There are also free apps for Mac and Windows, or you can do what I do, which is just look at my Wunderlist to-dos in a web browser. I have set Firefox as my browser just for Wunderlist (I use Safari for everything else) which makes it really easy to use Command-Tab to get to my to-dos.
What I like about it:
- The sync is seamless. So I can set my to-dos at the office, and then later I can open them up on my iPhone while I’m out running around.
- Attractive. And you can change the background color.
- Simple to create tasks and set them on a specific day.
- Lets you schedule reminders for your tasks, which is nice for those few things I don’t want to forget to do.
- Did I mention it’s free?
My pet peeves:
- I’d like to be able to set some tasks for a specific time as well as day.
- When I add something to the “today” list I can’t add it to a specific other list as well (personal, work, etc).
- Would be great to have a “someday” due date option.
- Would be cool to be able to create “smart lists” so I could look at, for example, only starred items due today.
Thumbs up for Wunderlist!
May 17, 2013
On paper, Drobo is brilliant. It’s a RAID-like system for data storage, without the limitations of conventional RAID systems. Particularly attractive is that you can mix and match drives of any sizes at any time — if you run out of space, you can go ahead and pop in a larger drive without even needing to do anything else.
Unfortunately, based on my experience with their products (two of their bottom-of-the-line four-bay Drobos), there’s trouble in paradise. Here are some of the reasons:
1. It’s incredibly slow. Like, crazy slow. On a normal FireWire drive, CrashPlan reports write rates of 30 MB/sec or more. With the Drobo attached by FireWire, it hovers around 2 MB/sec.
2. When you need to pop in a new drive, it can take well over a week for it to be assimilated into the system. We have been in the process of replacing 2 GB drives with 3 GB drives, and because the data can only survive one drive being out, you have to go one at a time. Each new drive has taken about two weeks to “relayout”, making this a two-month process, and during each of these periods, if any of the other three drives were to fail, we’d lose all our data.
3. Their tech support suggests this relayout time is pretty normal, but there’s absolutely nothing on their web site or in their documentation that suggests it should take more than a day or so (and in fact it suggests that something might be wrong if it takes longer than that).
4. Their tech support can’t answer fundamental questions consistently, like what exactly happens when you hit the storage ceiling (since the way it works, the Mac doesn’t know it’s actually out of space), or what exactly is happening when a drive is out, and their software alarmingly tells you that you’re over capacity. I have gotten completely conflicting answers from different support representatives.
5. It’s a proprietary system, so if something goes south with your setup, only Drobo can help you, if they even can. If you use a Drobo, you’d be well advised to make sure you have a backup of everything on it, preferably not on a Drobo.
When it comes to data, you want to know exactly what to expect, and Drobo’s literature and support doesn’t provide it, unfortunately. I want to believe, but I no longer can. Perhaps their newer, more expensive products perform better; and a larger unit could provide dual-drive failure survival which would make the slow relayout pr0cess safer. And maybe the units would perform better if they were used as a file storage target, rather than a continuous use scenario like being a CrashPlan target.
But there’s no guidance on their web site. They say to use any kind of drive for any kind of application. The lack of clear information about the fundamental operation of the unit is, in the end, what damns the Drobo for me. We’ve moved on to the Promise Pegasus R6, which has been great from a performance perspective, but, as a traditional RAID, there’s no way to expand its capacity without copying all the data off, putting in a matched set of new larger drives, and copying it back. That’s the pain point that made the Drobo so attractive. But it brings its own kind of pain.
May 16, 2013
We recently checked out FileMaker Pro 12, because we wanted to use the Mac to create a customized, shared, web-published application that didn’t require a ton of cost or development time.
What I discovered was that what’s old is new. FileMaker 12 is, in fundamental ways, not significantly different than FileMaker 7 was, back in 2004.
The big deals in FileMaker 12 are:
- More attractive layouts
- Afree iPhone and iPad app called FileMaker Go (this is no small thing)
Unfortunately, I found the new layout editor hard to get around — it’s difficult to see which individual items are selected during multiple selection, and there’s no drag-copy-on-a-grid to keep things aligned.
But the big bummer was what we came to the table for: Instant Web Publishing. This super great feature was introduced in FileMaker 4 (1997), and basically took a FileMaker layout and published it so that it could be accessed from any web browser. In other words, you could create a database-driven web application without needing to touch a line of HTML.
In 2013, this feature is still fairly primitive, and there’s still a ton of functionality you don’t get — including the pretty new FileMaker 12 visual themes! (This means you get the older, uglier themes with the newer, more irritating layout tools.)
If FileMaker (who are a division of Apple) were to invest in FileMaker Instant Web Publishing, it could almost be an entirely different product. As it stands now, FileMaker Pro is a niche client-server application sold mostly to an existing customer base, and it offers web access as a bolt-on feature.
But if web publishing were the feature, it would be epic. If FileMaker were to trick out IWP with AJAX (live updating without refresh, like Google uses everywhere), and give it all the capabilities of the desktop version, and make use of the new visual themes…it would be a wildly compelling product. You could use FileMaker expressly for the purpose of developing full-featured, good-looking, database-driven web applications without needing to know web programming.
While WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal have largely occupied this space, they’re limited in what they can do visually without technical skill. You can’t just say: “This field? Let’s turn it blue and put it over there and make it pop up a menu.” They’re only sorta gonna cut it if you need, as we do, a company app.
Well, the free iOS app is at least cool, and welcome. Developing in FileMaker again is sort of like reuniting with a close but difficult friend who insists, then as now, on doing things their way. There’s still no tool like it. And yet, you were hoping it would have changed just a little more.
May 14, 2013
- Office 2011 Home & Student: $139, includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (no Outlook) for one machine
- Office 2011 Business Edition: $219, includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook for one machine
- Office 365 Home Premium: $10/month, includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook for five machines
- If you already have Office 2011 Home & Student, and need Outlook, you can upgrade to Business Edition within the app for $99.
- Office 365 Home Premium is $10/month for five users, and it’s just the plain old Office suite as something you subscribe to rather than buy, plus some cloud service stuff. On a Mac, it includes what is basically Office 2011 (that is, version 14.x). Unlike all the other plans, It does NOT include hosted Exchange.
- Office 365 Hosted Email (aka Exchange Online Plan 1) is hosted Exchange, like Intermedia, for the bargain price of $4/mailbox/month (with no minimum) for unlimited users. Cheaper than Google Apps, fwiw. It does NOT include the Office suite or any other software.
- Office 365 Small Business is the same thing as Office 365 Hosted Email, but limited to 25 users, plus the ability to edit Office document attachments in web mail, and other minor features, for $6/mailbox/month.
- Office 365 Enterprise E1 is like Office 365 Small Business for unlimited users, for $8/mailbox/month.
HOSTED EXCHANGE AND WINDOWS SOFTWARE:
- Office 365 Small Business Premium is Office 365 Small Business, plus the full Windows (not Mac) Office suite, for $12.50/mailbox/month.
- Office 365 Midsize Business is like Office 365 Small Business for up to 300 users, plus the full Windows (not Mac) Office suite, for $15/mailbox/month.
- Office 365 Enterprise E3 is like Office 365 Small Business for unlimited users, plus the full Windows (not Mac) Office suite, for $20/mailbox/month.
May 13, 2013
If you want to buy a new Mac, consider buying one with an SSD drive (which stands for Solid State Digital, it has no moving parts) instead of a standard hard drive (which does have moving parts, and is thus slower in retrieving data).
Apple now has customize-to-order options that allow you to get a 256 GB or 512 solid state drive in any model, instead of a mechanical hard drive.
This is good news, at least if you’ve got dollars to spend and don’t have a ton of media to store. Formerly, the only SSD option was 768 GB, and it was only available for the 27″ model (and still is).
Solid state drives are much more expensive per GB than mechanical drives, but they are much faster and less prone to failure. In the 21″ model, Apple ships a pretty slow mechanical drive, so having the SSD alternative makes that model somewhat more appealing if you don’t mind the smaller capacity and higher price.
Interestingly, if you buy an iMac with a “Fusion Drive”, you’ll get both a 128 GB solid state drive and a mechanical drive, though as shipped, you’ll see both drives appear as one. OS X will, unseen to you, shuttle files between the two based on its guesses as to whether you need frequent access to them or not. You can reformat if you want to treat them as two separate drives with nothing happening behind the scenes. (It’s too bad they don’t offer a Fusion Drive option with a larger SSD.)
Anyway, since Macs are becoming more and more specialized and harder to customize on the inside, we’re glad to see a few more choices from Apple.
May 10, 2013
Will it have a larger screen?
Will it come a cheaper version?
Will it make toast?
The answer to the above questions, is “when Apple releases it,” maybe, maybe, and “no, but there might be an app that can help you get it delivered.”
We love rumors. We hope the next iPhone will blow our minds. And that Apple releases it tomorrow. There are lots and lots of web sites that openly speculate, or claim to credibly know, what Apple’s gonna do.
But they don’t know any better than you do, or we do. Apple is very secretive. So our policy is that nothing is true, or even likely, until Tim Cook says it is.
But you can still enjoy the rumors, as we do. Just know that that’s all they are, no matter who is reporting them.
May 8, 2013
While most of us have moved on from our PDAs and smartphones of yesteryear, some of our clients love a specific device, and we consider it our job to figure out a way to let them use it if that’s what they want to do. We have a client who still uses a Palm organizer, because its calendar view represents things in a particular way that works for her.
The problem is, of course, that Palm doesn’t exist any more, and their software is no longer supported. It hasn’t worked on any Mac made in the last five years. Our expert Greg thought that he could make it synchronize with a Parallels virtual machine setup with Windows 7, but it was the 64-bit version of Windows 7, and the software doesn’t work on that, either.
But Greg found a company called Aceeca that sells rugged handheld devices, including a Palm OS model (you see these sorts of things when you get your ticket barcode scanned at a ballgame). They make a 64-bit Palm device driver for Windows, and it worked!
That’s kind of what we love to do here: make it work. There is always a way.
May 7, 2013
If you’re unfamiliar with Spotify, it’s a subscription music service that lets you listen to all the music you want with either Pandora-like “channels” customized to your taste based on the music you like, or almost any specific album you can think of, without having to purchase it. There’s a free version with ads interspersed, or a paid version with no ads.
One of the benefits of the paid version is that you can download songs to your mobile device, for playback even when you have no internet (like when you’re in the subway). You “keep” them until you stop subscribing. However, figuring out how to download them for a whole album is less than obvious. Here’s the steps:
- Press the “three lines” icon in the upper left of the Spotify Window
- Choose Search
- Search for an artist or album
- Find an album you want
- Tap the three dots icon
- Tap Save to Playlist
- Tap the Plus button in the upper right
- Accept the default playlist name (the artist and album name) by pressing Create
- Tap the back button in the upper left until you see the “three lines” icon, and press that
- Choose Playlists, and tap the Playlist you just made
- Slide the “Available Offline” button at the top of the screen to “On”
- All the tracks on the album will start downloading. the “down arrow” icon next to each will turn green once it is available offline.
Spotify makes a great compliment, or alternative, to iTunes. Rhapsody is much older and very similar, and the process above is similar for downloading songs offline in Rhapsody. But the sound quality is somewhat inferior, and it is as not as well integrated into social media, if that matters to you. Also, Spotify has a capable Mac app, and Rhapsody does not. To get either to play to speakers via AirPlay, you can use Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil.
May 5, 2013
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Google is an inextricable part of our lives. While they have many compelling and interesting services (many not always fully baked), the best thing they do, in my opinion, is the same thing they originally did: search. Here are some tips for good searching:
- You shouldn’t ever need to to go www.google.com. On the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch, and older versions of Safari on the Mac, there’s a dedicated area for Google. Just click in there and start typing. On newer versions of Safari for Mac, there’s no extra area — just type your search in the main address bar.
- Use quotes around phrases (e.g. “mountain lion”) so you don’t get matches for individual words within them
- Use OR (in capitals) between words or phrases you want to find either one of (e.g. “snow leopard” OR lion OR “mountain lion”)
- Try to use less common words, or uncommon combinations of words
- You can use Tips & Tricks (really useful), Advanced Search, or Search Operators
- Gmail has its own Search Operators full of helpful tricks
May 2, 2013
I bought these AudioEngine 2 speakers for my desk here at IvanExpert world headquarters, and they are awesome. They’re small, great-looking, and above all, incredible sounding for their size, at least when you’re sitting in front of them. (I’d probably buy the 5+ model if I felt Caroline and Danielle needed to hear more of what I’m listening to on a regular basis.) I recommend the little wedge stands as well.
I love these speakers.