iCloud and you

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iCloud is the new Apple service that will ultimately replace MobileMe. If you’re a current MobileMe user, you will get all sorts of “reminders” and nudges to migrate to iCloud or start an iCloud account.

Unless you’re running Lion (Mac OS X 10.7) on all of your Macs, don’t do it.

The problem with iCloud is that it requires the latest OS and won’t work with any previous OS for synchronization of data. If you migrate to it and still have a previous-OS Mac, you will lose the ability to share your contacts and calendars among your Macs and iOS devices, and there is no way back.

The alternative is to start a brand-new, free account with iCloud for a specific purpose on your iOS devices (like backing up to iCloud instead of your Mac), but when you do finally migrate, you will have multiple iCloud accounts and, at this time, there is no way to merge them.

The bottom line is, if you use MobileMe and haven’t completely upgraded to Lion, you don’t have to do anything until June 2012 so leave iCloud alone. But if you don’t have a MobileMe account, or have upgraded all of your Macs to Lion, go ahead with iCloud.

Is it just you?

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A client sent me this neat web site that I thought was handy enough to share:

http://www.downforeveryoneorjustme.com/

Having trouble with a web site and wondering if it’s just you? This site will let you check it and know for sure.

Lion is out, but not for you

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Apple released their new version of the OS today. Lion (v.10.7) is available as a download-only upgrade to Snow Leopard (v.10.6) through the Mac App Store, but you should not even consider upgrading, now or in the near future. Aside from the assortment of problems that are inevitable in any new software release, Lion will not support older, PowerPC-based applications. This means things like Quicken 2007 and older version of FileMaker Pro, 4D, and Microsoft Office (to name a few) will not work and would need to be upgraded or replaced.

There will come a point when you will be ready for Lion, but you should use this time to figure out what will and won’t work and make the necessary changes to ensure the transition will be as smooth as possible. In the meantime, let others work out the kinks.

You can read a review of the new features here.

Troubleshooting Mail.app issues

Advice, Support 1 Comment »

One of the questions I often get from users of Mail.app results from a less-than-descriptive error message: “Cannot send message using server XXX”. It suggests a problem with your mail server when, in reality, the problem is with the message itself.

The next time you see an error message like that, press the “Edit Message” button, then check all the addresses in the To, CC and BCC fields. If the address is in a blue bubble, click on it to see which address is checked. If you find one that doesn’t look right (no “@some.domain” or similar problem), correct it and try sending again. For example, if you are typing quickly, you might inadvertently address a message to “fred” when you meant to send it to “fred@domain.com”.

If the addresses look right, check the size of your attachments. As a general rule, your attachments shouldn’t exceed 5 MB.

Can’t see an issue so far? Go to your web browser and make sure you actually have a connection to the Internet. Sometimes you will get disconnected for some reason or another, and Mail doesn’t warn you of that.

Finally, call us and we’ll be happy to troubleshoot.

Mac Defender scareware

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Viruses in the computer world (most of which won’t affect your Mac anyway) have given rise to a new class of malware called “scareware”. In short, this type of app tries to frighten you into purchasing a product you don’t need to fix problems that don’t exist.

Here’s how it works: You’re minding your own business visiting some web site when, suddenly, a page pops up that looks like a standard Mac window warning you of a variety of problems. It urges you to click a link to perform a “free” scan and, before you know it, you’ve installed something you can’t seem to get rid of without paying for it. In short, it’s a hoax designed to separate naturally nervous users from their cash.

Enter “Mac Defender”.

Mac Defender (a/k/a Mac Protector, and probably some other name soon) is just such an application. If you are tricked into installing it, the method for removing it is not obvious. Fortunately, it’s not hard either. You can find detailed instructions with pictures here, but these are the steps:

  • Close the Mac Defender window if it’s open.
  • Navigate to your /Applications/Utilities/ folder. The easiest way is to click anywhere on your desktop, then go up to the Go menu and choose “Utilities”.
  • Start Activity Monitor.app in your Utilities folder.
  • If no window appears, go up to the Window menu and choose “Activity Monitor”.
  • In the window that appears, look in the upper, right corner and you will see a search box. Type “Defender” there.
  • “MacDefender” should appear in the list in the main part of that window. Highlight it and press the red “Quit Process” button in the toolbar.
  • Choose “Force Quit” from the window that appears.
  • Quit Activity Monitor.
  • Navigate to your /Applications/ folder and trash Mac Defender.
  • Go to your Apple menu and choose “System Preferences”.
  • Click on the “Accounts” icon, then click the “Login Items” tab.
  • Locate “Mac Defender” in the list and press the “-” button beneath the list.

To be clear, this is not a virus because it can only get onto your machine with your knowledge and, in fact, your permission. The lesson is, don’t believe everything you see on the web, be skeptical about stuff that tries to scare you into doing something, and be conscious and particular about what you decide to install.

Inexplicable slowness

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Have you been experiencing sudden slowdowns, color wheels, and general unresponsiveness that started within the last few weeks? The problem may be one of the latest updates to Safari, or rather, the interaction of an older Flash plug-in with the latest version of Safari.

Flash is a type of animation that is common to many web sites. In order to see it, your machine needs the Adobe plug-in for your web browser. The good news is that either your Mac came with it installed or the web sites that use it will offer clear instructions on how to install it. The bad news is, once you’ve got some version installed, it’s up to you to keep it up to date.

My belief is that the new Safari coupled with an older Flash plug-in is resulting in a glitch that is swamping resources on your Mac causing general system slowdowns. Quitting Safari will help for a time, but eventually the problem will return.

The solution is to download the latest Flash plug-in from here, then quit Safari and install it. Be sure to do this every few months (at least) to keep up with the newest release because nothing on your system will tell you when your Flash plug-in is out of date.

Underwater digital pictures

Advice 2 Comments »

In the olden days, when women dragged the laundry down to the river and men struggled to make their VCR’s stop blinking “12:00:00″, anyone who wanted to take pictures underwater would either have to buy a disposable analog camera (and hope they wouldn’t need more than 24 tries to capture those wily fish), or get a pricy underwater case for their regular digital camera. The underwater cases worked well enough, as long as you kept them properly lubricated and didn’t intend to take land pictures between dives, and didn’t mind the extra bulk.

Fast-forward to 2011 when you can get digital cameras that you can actually take underwater with you. Crazy, right? But I can tell you firsthand that they work and take decent pictures both under and over water with no more maintenance than a rinse and towel-dry.

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Upgrading MobileMe calendars

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If you use MobileMe and take advantage of the option to synchronize your data, like contacts and calendars, you might be aware that Apple has changed something behind the scenes and has asked you to “upgrade” your calendars. What may not be clear is what that means and how best to do it.

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A cautionary tale about passwords and security

Advice, News 1 Comment »

Ars Technica published this story about the hacking of a firm whose business is to secure networks and protect others against the kind of hacking it suffered. It’s an interesting and instructive tale about how hackers operate and why it’s important to use secure, unique passwords for the different sites and services in your life.

Spoiler: It’s not so hard to “hack” when basic precautions are not taken.

Once this article rightly scares you, think about your passwords and whether you use the same ones everywhere. If you do, it’s time to change them. To help keep track, I recommend PasswordWallet, a Mac or Windows app with a related app for the iOS devices. PasswordWallet will let you track your various passwords and even offers tools to take you to sites and enter the passwords for you. It has facilities to synchronize the passwords among your various devices and keeps all of your information in an encrypted file protected by a single password.

AirPrint for all

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Apple last week released iOS 4.2 for the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. Among the included features is AirPrint, the ability to print from these devices to a network printer. Unfortunately, as released, AirPrint only recognizes 11 printers in the world, and yours (probably) isn’t one of them.

For a list of the compatible printers, you can look here.

Offering this feature in such a limited way seemed a bit lame by Apple’s standards so I thought there had to be more to it. It turns out that the ability to print to most printers was included during the development of OS X 10.6.5, but removed just before release. Although it’s unclear why, the speculation was some intellectual property conflict.

Fortunately, there are workarounds that will probably work with your printer. One is easy, but has be paid for. The other requires a few more steps but is free. I’ll review both, but even if you opt for the former, take a look at the steps for the latter as I include a suggestion for adding a PDF printer to your Mac, something that might help you in other ways.

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