Safari 4 on Windows looks good

It is really nice to see Apple have dropped the unsightly bushed metal look in their latest Safari 4 beta on Windows. Whilst that aesthetic worked fine in OSX, in a Windows world next to "traditional" applications it came across as being really unsightly. Let's hope this is a sign iTunes will take on more of a native Windows aesthetic in a future release.

However what is really crazy is how much Safari 4 looks and behaves like Google Chrome on Windows. Apple's developers have spent the last few months "borrowing" many of Chrome's features, such as the top-sites view and browser tabs on top, but on Windows they have gone a step further with the menu system itself. This is not a bad thing as the result looks nice, but beyond the little Google logo in the top right, your average Windows user is going to have a hard time telling the difference between the two browsers.

Now if only the Apple engineers would implement process isolation for each tab or window like in Chrome. It is hugely annoying to have all the Safari windows disappear just because somebody at Adobe cannot write a stable Flash plug-in.


Loose some OSX fat with Xslimmer

These days disk space is not a huge problem, but on a MacBook Air it can get a little tight once all your applications and media libraries are installed. This dilemma is not helped by OSX 10.5 Leopard's installation bloat. Not only is multiple language support installed by default, but most applications come with both x86 and PowerPC binary files. So if like me you only understand English, removing superfluous languages and binaries will free gigabytes.

Now whilst it is possible to do this task manually it is hardly fun or a good use of one's time. Fortunately there are a few tools out there that can do the job for you, my favourite being Xslimmer. Whilst this application does cost a handful of dollars (US$12.95) it has a great interface and keeps a 'blacklist' of applications that experience issues when they are placed on a diet, for example Skype. Plus if it helps remember that for this money you are reclaiming storage space, so it could be argued $13 is a very small price to pay when your laptop's hard drive cannot be replaced and external USB drives look ugly.

Using Xslimmer is very easy, simply open it and run the Genie command to automatically locate all your applications. Once found Xslimmer will analyse each program to determine what excess fat can be trimmed. This usually results in a 25%-50% reduction in application size. This soon adds up to gigabytes of space on a typical OSX installation. Once analysis is complete you can choose to backup all unnecessary files or just delete them entirely. After this decision is made Xslimmer quietly gets on with the job, which for me resulted in 2.5 gigabytes of storage being freed (approximately US$5.20 per gigabyte).

The only thing to keep in mind is that as software updates and new applications are installed new fat will be introduced to the system. This means if you want to keep your system nice and lean re-runnig Xslimmer every few months is a good idea.


Apple purchases CUPS to ward off GPL3 requirements?

Today the lead developer of the CUPS (Common Unix Printing System) project announced that in February 2007 Apple purchased the CUPS source code and took him on as a staff member. CUPS is significant within the *NIX world because it is arguably the most well supported and feature-rich printing system available. Apple has used it within OSX from the outset and personally I feel it is the best implementation of CUPS available thanks to the Aqua interface and the fact that the majority of printers just work without any effort.

There would seem to be no immediate danger of CUPS code being completely closed sourced considering it is currently released under the GPL2 license. What the code purchase suggests is that Apple probably plans on internally re-licensing the code under a closed source license for many, if not all of the platforms that could make use of it, i.e. Mac, AirPort and the iPhone.

Dual licensing such as this is not uncommon by vendors who control the rights to GPL code. It is a good way of benefiting from an open source development model and community whilst still being able to ship a modified version of the code on closed devices or only binary form. License flexibility such as this will become increasingly important as the GPL3 license is adopted as it resolves many of the loopholes vendors used to ship GPL code in what effect were closed devices (Tivoization).

Now that Apple does have a formal stake in CUPS my biggest hope is that they can spare a graphic designer to give the website and the CUPS interface with a much needed aesthetic overhaul and maybe a better logo...

Is this the end of iLife as we know it?

iLife is Apple's general purpose package for working with digital photos, video, audio and the Web. It usually receives an update every year around January/February but this year has been different. MacWorld came and went without a peep, leading to the general feeling that iLife would be released at the same time as OSX Leopard. But a few things have happened which suggests to me that iLife as we know it will cease to exist and its component applications will be absorbed into OSX Leopard:

Feature Parity with Windows Vista

The first reason lies in OSX's need to maintain feature parity, if not superiority, over Windows Vista. Whilst Apple have been quite vocal about Microsoft's feature copying in the past it would seem that Vista has digital media functionality currently lacking within OSX. This functionality ranges from the ability to manipulate digital photographs directly within the Windows Explorer through to the far more capable Movie Maker shipped on the Vista DVD. In contrast OSX needs the optional iLife package to provide this capability and as a consequence the degree to which OSX's default interface has been tailored to handle digital media is limited.

Functionality already present within developer builds of Leopard

A hint of forthcoming Leopard/iLife intergration has been illustrated in the latest developer build of Leopard. This build includes a 'Media' link in the Finder for displaying resources managed by iMovie, iPhoto and GarageBand. This kind of functionality is currently present within applications such as Pages and Keynote when iLife is installed but the fact it has made an appearance within the operating system suggests this tool-set will be far more ubiquitous in the future.

What else can Apple do to iLife?

The other problem that Apple must be facing is the looming question of what else to do to iLife to justify an upgrade. Numerous application iterations has seen its functionality reach a level where not a lot can be added without risk of eroding the lower end of Apple's professional application market. Where else can Apple go with iLife except for deep integration into Leopard alongside a healthy dose of Core Animation? By bringing together iLife's current capabilities, Core Animation's aesthetics and OSX's renowned ease of use Apple would create the 'complete package' discussed in the MacWorld keynote. Such a strategy would certainly provide them with some significant ammunition to fire in their war of words against Windows Vista.

Will it happen? Maybe not, but at least a number of other people are of the same opinion as myself which can't be a bad thing. I guess time (and Steve Jobs) will tell...

Resetting a Video iPod

The nice thing about devices with removable batteries is that fixing something that has locked up is a simple task of pulling the batteries out. Unfortunately the batteries on the iPod cannot be removed so if your device does lock up you can be in a spot of difficulty. Fortunately there is a relatively simple process to reset an iPod, just do the following:

  1. Toggle the Hold switch on and off. (Slide it to Hold, then turn it off again.)
  2. Press and hold the Menu and Select buttons until the Apple logo appears, about 6 to 10 seconds. You may need to repeat this step.

These steps were quoted from the Geekfishing Blog which also has a number of other tips on resetting a stubborn iPod.

A tantalising prospect: Leopard supports ZFS

Leopard is the next version of OSX due for release mid-next year. When first introduced to Mac developers a number of significant Leopard features were purposefully kept 'secret'. Perhaps one feature hinted at that is now beginning to appear in the latest development builds is support for the ZFS filesystem.

ZFS is a fantastic file-system developed by Sun Microsystems for use initially in their Solaris operating system. ZFS is arguably the most advanced, generally available file-system which supports massive disk sizes, unlimited file attributes, sophisticated volume management (including snapshots) and great RAID support. If these reports are true then it maybe an indication of how Leopard's Time Machine functionality maybe finally implemented. ZFS would provide a fast and efficient snapshot mechanism that would work far more efficiently compared to creating multiple standard backups or even incremental backups as what would be required using a conventional file-system.

Even if ZFS is not used in Time Machine it is still great to see such a file system will be available for OSX especially at the server level where the majority of ZFS features are targeted. Hopefully in the future we will see ZFS take the role of OSX's default operating system allowing the venerable HFS+ format to be finally retired.

Another request for a small scale iServe alternative

I was interested to see a call by Tom of New Rowley for a home-orientated Mac server for storing all the digital music, video and photographs people are collecting. The product described by this post was very similar to the one I described as ideal for the small business sector a while back. It is nice to see that I am not completely crazy and that such a product would satisfy a couple of juicy markets. Whilst I do not think I would buy one for my house I am pretty sure an iServe for the home would be a lot better than the current crop of large external storage devices available for the average consumer.

Apple battery recall

This news is a pain because it effects my PowerBook's battery. It is not the original battery that came with the computer but one I bought six months ago. Unfortunately due to the number of batteries recalled it looks like Apple's support website has gone down too.

Mac Serve anyone?

Probably the biggest untapped server market out there is at the small business level (two to twenty people). At the moment there are a number of Small Business Server (SBS) solutions in this market from a number of companies:

The desktops are the servers

Using Windows file sharing, Samba and Bonjour the business configures their own little desktop-based server for file and print sharing. Thanks to semi-intelligent Internet gateways from the likes of Linksys/DLink that handle DNS and DHCP setting this sort of thing up is relatively easy. Whilst ugly this is probably the most common file/print/Internet sharing solution in most non-tech related small businesses. Unfortunately when things go wrong they can really go very bad, I've seen a number of desktop-servers go belly up because of Internet spyware and viruses.

A little OSX security tip

The administrator designated user is by default the first user created on an OSX system.
In many cases you probably only have one user on the system and in that case this account will have administrator privileges. Whilst administrator privileges are not complete 'root' privileges it does hold enough power to do serious damage.

Most of the so called OSX 'viruses' are actually trojan horses that are executed by an unsuspecting user. The most famous one was a bash script named like an image file and then given a picture icon (so when the user opened it the malicious script was run).

The easiest way to protect yourself from all of this is to create an admin account with administrator privileges and then take away administrator privileges from your everyday users. This will ensure that even if you accidentally run a trojan or just a malicious application it won't be able to cause any real harm (though it would still be possible to delete all your personal data files). Whenever a system modification is about to take place the authentication box will popup asking for the administrator username/password. This is a nice warning message to you that a system change is going to take place and a deterrent to those users who are not supposed to be making system changes (like kids wanting to install games or p2p clients).

It is a nice security blanket and something Apple should really consider doing by default (but I guess they are more concerned about ease of use). If you ever need true root privileges to edit system details (like files in /etc/) open the Terminal and do the following: