Saturday, July 28, 2012

My first impressions of OS X Mountain Lion

Finally downloaded and installed OS X Mountain Lion 10.8 yesterday. My initial impression is that it is okay. Nothing special, just okay. Reminds me of the Windows XP Service Packs that basically added new functionality to the OS. Yes, I know that there are changes and improvements under the hood (200+ new features), but Mountain Lion feels just like a refresh of OS X Lion to me.

In a sense, it feels like a morning-after letdown. It's like meeting someone at a bar while wearing beer goggles and having a one-night stand only to wake up the next morning realizing it was nothing special especially after you see things clearly. Did you have a good time? Yes, but you quickly realize that it is what is it. Nothing more. That's Mountain Lion.

Don't get me wrong, Mountain Lion is not bad. Air Play mirroring and the Notification Center are among some of the nice touches added to the OS. I would recommend users to upgrade, but not to expect anything "magical". Apple is continuing to integrate features of iOS into OS X, which is a good thing for Mac/iPad/iPhone users. Unfortunately, there just isn't a "wow" factor with this release. Only time will tell what Apple has up it's sleeve for OS X 10.9 or OS X 11.

Friday, July 27, 2012

OS X Mountain Lion & SkyDrive: Not playing nice together

Updated my primary home desktop to OS X Mountain Lion this evening and of course I ran into an issue with the Microsoft SkyDrive app (which I use regularly). After completing the upgrade, I was presented with an error message basically indicating that SkyDrive could not authenticate with the KeyChain. Luckily, there is an quick workaround until either Apple or Microsoft addresses this issue.

1. Launch Keychain Access from      /Applications/Utilities
2. Select the login keychain from the list on the left
3. Locate the SkyDrive Cached Credential item and select it
4. Go to File/Get Info
5. Select the Access Control tab
6. Click to select Allow all applications to access this item
7. Click Save Changes

The alternative would be to transfer files back and forth between my computer and the SkyDrive website instead of using the convenient Finder integration have been used too. This is just a temporary workaround and hopefully a more permanent fix will be delivered soon.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A little Friday night technical surgery

A few weeks ago, Amazon had a nice deal on SSD drives so I ordered a 120GB Kingston SSDNow 200 V+. I decided to use it to replace the WD Caviar Black hard drive in my Dell Inspiron Zino, that was used (more like UN-used in recent months) as an HTPC in my home office. I also decided to install the Windows 8 Release Preview onto it as well just to get an idea of how it would perform and look connected to a 42-inch LG plasma TV.
I am very happy to report that it not only performs well, but also that Windows 8 looks good on a large screen. Granted, it's not a quad-core system, it is more than fast enough for everyday tasks such as web surfing and watching Blu-Ray movies.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Planning for life after Windows Home Server

Microsoft recently announced that with the upcoming release of Windows Server 2012 there would not be a new version of Windows Home Server (WHS). WHS-specific functionality, such as media streaming and DLNA support, will be included in Windows Server Essentials 2012. Great, but it costs $425. Additionally, Windows Server 2012 seems like it will be less home-centric than WHS. This makes it a less attractive option for home users as a storage option.

I loved WHS. I am running WHS on a Dell Inspiron Zino HD with a 4-bay Drobo connected for storage. It's easy to setup and works well with not only all our computers but also other devices in our house such as our multiple Xbox 360s. Completely transparent and hands-off experience.

While WHS is still usable and will have support until around 2016, I'm starting to consider alternatives that could take it's place sooner rather than later. I have already moved my personal files to SkyDrive (did so before the WHS announcement). Thinking it might be a good idea to migrate my wife's files onto SkyDrive too. This takes care of our personal files,  but I still have to figure out what to do with our personal media: movies, music and pictures. Not only do I need a centralized location for our media files but we have to be able to access them from any device in our house as well. This is why WHS was the perfect solution for us.

Here are the alternatives solutions I am looking into:

- PogoPlug Series 4 with a 1TB USB 3.0 WD My Book Essential (just purchased both)
- LaCie NetworkSpace 2 (found it in my box of "retired" gadgets)
- A SOHO NAS device such as the Drobo FS or a Synology Diskstation (last resort because of costs)
- Replace WHS with Ubuntu Server (or Amahi Home Server)

Over the next few months, I will be testing the alternatives to decide which one to go with and share my findings here. I can understand Microsoft wanting to streamline their server line, but WHS is one of those unsung products that will be missed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Impressions of a Chromebook

Chrome OS desktop with apps
I got a chance to play around with a colleague's 1st generation Samsung Chromebook and while I can say that it is a pretty decent device, it's not a replacement for your current computer running Windows or OS X. I can see it being used as a complementary device for some people.  That being said, if I had to choose between a Chromebook and a tablet device, I would go with the tablet without hesitation.

Chrome OS is nice (easy setup and quick to start using once you open the lid) but the devices are too limited in my opinion (you're out of luck if you don't have wireless connectivity). However, I do see places where Chromebooks (as well as Chromeboxes) being useful.  One is in public schools that are looking for simple and cheap computing solutions. Another place where Chromebooks might be a good fit are environments that want to provide some type of laptop for checkout purposes such as public libraries or colleges/universities. In addition, I can see these devices being useful to older, casual computer users who just want to surf the Internet and check email.

Unless you are deeply entrenched in the world of Google (e.g. Chrome, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google+, Google Calendar, Picasa, YouTube, etc.), a Chromebook might be considered unnecessary by most people. This is especially true when you compare the cost of a Chromebook with the cost of some of the current tablets or some low-price laptops. On the other hand, if you do regularly use Google services and need a simple to use, hassle-free device, a Chromebook might work perfectly for you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Microsoft's Upgrade Push for Windows 8

Microsoft is really working hard to get Windows 8 into everyone's hands once it is released. A few weeks ago, they announced that if you purchase a qualifying Windows 7 computer between June 2012 and January 31, 2013, you are eligible to purchase a downloadable upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $14.99 once it is available. Whatever computer you buy today, as long as it meets the requirements, you can purchase the Windows 8 Pro upgrade. This link provides more information about the Windows Upgrade Offer.

Not in the market for a new computer? No problem. Microsoft has also announced that if your current computer is running a valid copy of Windows XP (yes, even XP users can get in on this upgrade action), Windows Vista, or Windows 7 you qualify to download an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $39.99. If you are the type who prefers to go into a local store like Best Buy, you can purchase a DVD version of the upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $69.99. Furthermore, this offer includes a free option to add Windows Media Center as well. This upgrade promotion for Windows 8 Pro both online and in stores runs through January 31, 2013. More information about this promotion is at this link.

Something else that is also worth noting is that Microsoft has decided to offer the "higher-end" Windows 8 Pro edition for these promotions instead of trying to offer the version of Windows 8 that most closely matches the version of Windows a user has on their computer. This makes things less confusing.  For example, users will be able to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro from Windows 7 Starter, Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate.

Whether you love or hate Microsoft, you have to admit that they are taking the upcoming release of Windows 8 very seriously. I've been pleased with my results of testing and using Windows 8 on various hardware over the past few months. No reason not to give it try considering how cheap and easy Microsoft is making it for everyone to get.