Constant Windows Updates!

December 26, 2012

One think I hated about using a Microsoft Windows PC is the contant updates you needed to install. It seemed that every week you had to install 1 or more updates for security or for updating some Windows component on your system. More often than not, you needed to do a full reboot of your system after installing such updates. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t see updates for my iMac, but they are much more infrequent and in most cases it doesn’t require a system reboot.

I bring this up because whenever I start up my Windows 7 desktop machine to convert a video file (using Handbrake) or search for a pdf file or document I’m always asked to install some kind of Windows Update. Almost every time– never fails. Man, I’m glad I’m using an iMac as my main desktop computer system!

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Calendar mayhem!

April 17, 2011

I have trouble remembering appointments, family events, birthdays, etc. so I rely heavily on a calendar to keep my life in order. This is true for both my personal and business life, so like to keep two separate calendars to keep things compartmentalized. The issue I’ve been struggling with is finding the most efficient way of dealing with these two calendars and keeping them synced with my computers and mobile devices.

So here’s what I have available:

  1. Personal calendar for my personal appointments and events
  2. Business calendar for my work appointments, travel dates, etc.
  3. An iMac at home running Snow Leopard Mac X OS
  4. A Dell laptop running Windows 7 for work
  5. An Apple iPhone 4 as my smartphone
  6. Microsoft Exchange Server for my work email, calendar, and contacts
  7. Apple MobileMe for Calendar, Email, and Contacts
  8. Google Calendar and Contacts
My goal, is to be able to view and edit my calendar appointments (personal and business) on my iMac desktop computer, Dell laptop, and iPhone device. I know there’s all kinds of 3rd-party freeware and commercial software for syncing calendar data between applications and the cloud, but I wanted to minimize that as much as possible to eliminate any chances of “foul ups”.
I ended up using this solution: Create two calendars with my MobileMe account that allows me to create,view, and edit appointments. If you’re unfamiliar with MobileMe, it is Apple’s cloud-based system which allows for centralized email, calendar, contacts, and offline disk storage. Using this method, I can always access my calendars via a web browser with an Internet connection. Because the majority of my devices are Apple-based, it made sense using this method for syncing purposes. So, I now use the Apple iCal application to access both MobileMe calendars on my iMac desktop computer, and the built-in Calendar app on my iPhone for doing the same. For my Dell laptop (running Windows 7), I use the Microsoft Outlook application along with a MobileMe syncing utility (provided by Apple) to sync my two MobileMe calendars with Outlook for local access. This method seems to work well so far, but I need to always make sure I’m viewing the two MobileMe calendars in all my apps and not the default local calendars (which should be empty).
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Command + Delete is my friend

November 14, 2010

When I switched from a Microsoft PC over to an Apple iMac, it took a bit of “relearning” to become totally productive with the new environment. Here are a few glaring differences I found:

With an Apple keyboard you don’t have a HOME, DEL, or END key. It is amazing how much I relied on those keys without knowing it. So if I’m coding and I want to move to the beginning or end of a line, I don’t have a HOME or END key to help me out. The Mac has a DELETE key (which is equivalent to the BACKSPACE key on a PC keyboard), but it doesn’t have an equivalent DEL key (which removes characters behind the cursor). That’s another thing I sorely miss.

On my PC I was able to delete a selected file or folder by just pressing the BACKSPACE key. If you try to do the same thing on a Mac, nothing happens. What I discovered is that you need to press the Command key + Delete key to delete a selected folder or file. At first I thought this was a pain, but in hindsight it seems to be a good thing as it minimizing unintentional deletions by just pressing the Delete key alone.

Also, pressing the RETURN key after highlighting a file will not open that file in the Mac OS (nothing happens).

And finally one big one: When you click the small red “X” ball in the upper left corner of a Mac application window the program appears to exit but it is actually still running in the background. The only way to fully exit the application is to do a “Force Quit” which can be done a few ways:

  1. Select “Quit” or “Force Quit” from the application’s menu bar.
  2. Press COMMAND + Q keys to quit the application (when the app’s title bar is active at the top of the screen)
  3. Right-click on the app in the Dock (at the bottom of the screen) and select “Quit” from the popup context menu.

I usually do option (2) as it seems the fastest for me. So there are a few differences between Microsoft Windows and the iMac OS, but I’ve adapted very quickly and am actually more productive with the addition of Applescript for the Mac!


Using VMWare Fusion for Windows 7 on a Mac

September 20, 2010

My recent conversion from a Windows 7 Professional Desktop PC to an Apple iMac has been a painless transition, where I’m close to shutting down my PC for good. There are only two PC-based applications which I currently still need to run on my desktop: (1) Password Manager Application, (2) Paint.net graphics application.

Fortunately, there exists a product called CrossOver which allows me to run certain Microsoft Windows applications inside of Mac OS X. CrossOver is based on the WINE WIN32 emulation and basically emulates the Windows calls for most of the Microsoft Windows system functions. So you aren’t running the full-blown Windows OS but still can run Windows applications. As such, running such apps with CrossOver is fairly quick on the Mac. CrossOver is a commercial product that normally sells for $40 US, but after the trial period ends they sent me an email offering the product for $20 US which I thought was a deal, so I purchased it.

Now, CrossOver worked fine for running my Password Manager application, as it was based on standard WIN32 calls and control libraries. So, I can start up my Password app very easily by just selecting the app’s icon from the Mac Applications Folder. I have to note that the buttons, and other various Windows controls look very Windows XP-ish (not Vista or Windows 7), and some of the fonts used in the app are a bit off, but neverthless the app runs quite well.

Unfortunately, I can’t run the Paint.net application using CrossOver since this application heavily uses Microsoft’s .NET technology. Apparently, CrossOver doesn’t have a way of emulating the latest .NET libraries so I’m out-of-luck with running my favorite graphics application on the Mac.

After searching through all the available native Mac graphics apps, I still can’t find anything that can do everything I need to do easily as with Paint.net. So, I tend to run back to my Windows 7 Desktop PC (using a Remote Desktop Connection from my Mac) whenever I need to do some graphics image editing. Since at some point I want to turn off my Desktop PC forever, I need to find a solution to this issue.

So, I decided to explore using Virtualization Software which will emulate the x86 hardware virtually, basically simulating a Desktop PC. I can then install Windows 7 in that environment and run Windows and Windows-based applications through this emulation.

There seems to be three big players in this field to choose from: (1) Parallels, (2) VMWare Fusion, and (3) VirtualBox. Both Parallels and VMWare Fusion are commercial products that go head-to-head for this application, and both cost around $80 US. VirtualBox is freeware offered by Sun Microsystems which has similar virtualization technology. I’ve used VirtualBox for my Palm WebOS development (the Palm Emulator runs inside of it) and it seems to work fairly well. I’ve also used VirtualBox with Windows 7 and it also worked fine, but seemed a little slow when starting up the applications.

Both Parallels and VMWare Fusion are designed for a smoother and transparent operation running on the Mac when compared to VirtualBox, in my opinion. Both of these products offer the ability to run a Windows App on the Mac such that it appears to be a Mac application. So if I run my Paint.net application it will popup in a window on my Mac and operate just as it would on my PC in it’s own window.

So, I decided to download the VMWare Fusion software and use their 30-day trial period to test it out. After jumping through their hoops to get a temporary activation code, the installation of VMWare Fusion and the Windows 7 OS was a piece of cake. Very easy to install, as I simply inserted my Windows 7 OS install CD when asked for it from VMFusion, and away I went.

I used the default settings for the virtual environment of 40 GB of simulated disk drive space, along with 1 GB of RAM. This should be sufficient for running Windows 7 and my Paint.net application. After the Win 7 installation and the various Microsoft Updates, I was all ready to do. No need to fuss with internet connections, etc.

I then installed Paint.net in this virtual world and was able to run it using VMWare’s “Unity” mode which makes the app appear to be a Mac application (running in it’s own window). So I don’t see the Windows 7 Desktop, just my Paint.net app running in a window on my Mac’s desktop screen. Sweet!

I was surprised at the responsiveness of Windows 7 running in this environment, as it appears just as snappy as running it on my Desktop PC. I especially like the Unity-mode, which allows me to run a single app on my Mac. In fact, there’s a drop-down menu from my Mac’s menu bar which allows me access to all the installed apps in the VMWare Fusion’s Windows environment, so I can effectively run any installed app very easily. Note, that Parallels has a similar feature called “Coherence”, so you can probably do something similar with that product.

Another cool thing is that I can configure VMWare to share my Mac’s desktop, and as such all the files currently on my Mac’s desktop appear on the Window’s desktop as well. I can also place an icon of a Windows application on my Mac’s Dock bar so I can launch it very easily.

Now the real test, is how quickly can I start up VMWare Fusion on my Mac when I want to run Paint.net? It would be a real drag if it took 5 minutes for the entire system to boot up for me to run a single application. So I did a quick test on my iMac quad-core i7 machine to see how fast I can bring up the Paint.net application with VMWare Fusion not running in the background.

So clicking on my Paint.net icon on the Mac dock launches VMWare Fusion (which started up the VMFusion virtualization software and booted up Windows 7 inside of it) and my Paint.net application appeared in a self-contained window on my Mac in 30 seconds. That time is actually pretty good, since VMFusion is booting up Windows 7 from a cold start!

Another feature with VMWare Fusion is that you can save a Windows session as “Suspended”, which stores the current Windows environment in a file for faster startup. So I initiated the suspend mode and then Quit the VMFusion application. Next, when I clicked on the Paint.net icon in my Mac’s Dock bar the Paint.net application appeared in 10 seconds! That was astounding, and perfectly acceptable for my needs of running a few specific Windows applications on my Mac. Who knows if VMWare is achieving this because it’s using the multiple core processors on my i7 iMac, but in any case I’m really liking this!

The only downside to all of this, is that you need a Windows 7 license for your virtual world. That shouldn’t be a problem for me, as I can always decommission one of my retired PCs and use that license. Also, you’re tying up a certain amount of system memory (in my case, 1 GB) and a small amount of disk space on your Mac system, but I think that is perfectly acceptable for what I’m getting in return.

So there you have it. A perfect solution for running much-needed Windows Apps on your Mac. VMWare Fusion seems to run fast and allows easy and convenient access to my Windows Apps. I just need to fork over $80 and get a full license. 😉


At week two with my iMac and still lovin it!

September 3, 2010

I’m nearing the two week mark with my new iMac and I just love it. The keyboard is feeling really good, and I just love the snappiness of the system and the bright clear LED monitor. It’s dead quiet, and does everything I need it to do. In fact, I haven’t had to use my previous Windows 7 desktop PC for any of my real work. The only reason I have it still turned on, is to record TV shows for my Zune HD using the built-in TV Tuner card and Windows Media Center Software. I’m hoping to rectify that soon with an Apple iPod Touch and an EyeTV HD recording system for my iMac.

So after two weeks, here are some noticable differences between my previous Win7 system and the iMac:

  • It’s taken me a while to get use to using CMD+C/V for copy/paste on the Mac instead of CTRL+C/V. (Muscle memory is hard to untrain!)
  • You can’t highlight a file or folder in Finder (equivalent to File Explorer) and press the delete key to delete it. You have to either drag it to the trash can or right-click on it and select “Move to Trash”.
  • Apple’s equivalent “Office” software (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) are much, much easier to use instead of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. You don’t have all the bells and whistles as Microsoft Office, but you have enough to get the job done quickly and with professional results.
  • Saving an image from a web site to my iMac can be done simply by dragging off the web browser and onto my desktop. No more right-click-copy-paste as I did with my PC.
  • The Mac’s Automator software is great at automating certain operations and functions. Much better than trying to create DOS batch files.
  • My iMac has been running just fine for the last two weeks with only one reboot (due to a system update). I have no desire to reboot, which in contrast I needed to do on my PC routinely to clear memory, etc.

So I have zero buyer’s remorse at this time and am a happy Mac user. I’ve got two Mac/iPhone/iPad programming books sitting on my desk, along with two Mac OS X Beginner’s Guides to help me unlock the full potential of my iMac. The next thing you know, I’ll be putting the Apple logo decal (that came with my system) on my car bumper… 🙂


Ninite – A great automatic software installer

October 31, 2009

niniteIf you check out my Netbook Blog, you’ll see that I recently purchased a Dell 11z netbook system. The bad thing, is that it arrived with Windows Vista installed and not Windows 7 (which is what I expected). As such, I have to wait about 10 days to get the Dell OEM Windows 7 install DVDs in the mail (ugh).

So I’m in a dilemma– should I install all my standard apps under Vista and use my netbook for the next 10 days and then later wipe out Vista with a clean Windows 7 installation and RE-install all my apps again? I normally install about 10-12 standard applications that I use for my work (most of which take a considerable amount of time to install) and I don’t want to do these installations twice in such a close period of time. So, I decided to just install the FireFox web browser and use my new netbook at a very minimal level until the Windows 7 OS DVD arrives.

This morning, I stumbled upon a wonderful utility called Ninite which seems to be the answer to my prayers. The http://www.ninite.com web site has a list of programs that you can select, afterwhich you download an installer program that runs on your system and automatically installs all the selected applications using the default settings. So I was able to use this free service to download and install the latest versions of 18 different applications completely automatically. I launched the installer and 15 minutes later it was done, with no user interaction on my part.

ninite_1

Since I normally select all the default settings when I install apps, this utility was perfect for my needs. It also answers “no” for apps that try to install junk (like Yahoo toolbar add-ons, etc). What’s really nice, is that nearly all of my standard apps are among the listed available applications for installation, especially some of the programming apps I use.

So now I can use all my favorite apps on my new Dell netbook under Vista, and later do the same fast installation under Windows 7 and be up and running. Great, great utility!


Windows 7 Family Pack – 3 copies for $150

October 27, 2009

win7_familypackIf you’re like me and you have several computers in your home, Microsoft is offering a Windows 7 Family Pack for those wanting to upgrade multiple PCs. You get 3 licensed copies of Windows 7 Home Premium for the price of $150 US. Since a single copy of Win 7 Home Premium is selling for $120 US, that’s a good deal. Note, this is for an “upgrade” price, so you need to have a copy of XP or Vista on your machine. However, I did a clean upgrade where my PC’s hard drive was wiped clean, so I’m not sure how the upgrade checks for a prior Windows copy?

In my home, we have lots of PCs and laptops so I do plan to get the family pack to upgrade a few laptops and one desktop PC. If you want to save even more money, you can order your family pack from Costco for $140 US. Now, I don’t think Microsoft will be offering the family pack indefinitely, so I suggest you not wait forever to get one if you’re considering it.