How do I work everywhere?

APC wrote:

I do some word processing on a laptop at home, and then need to do work on some of the same documents on my computer at work. So far, this has led to a jumble of back-and-forth emails and disorganized files. What’s the solution?

My favorite word of the year: Dropbox! Go to, download the software on both computers. Create an account from one of the computers, and then sign into that same account on the other computer. Anything you put in the folder called Dropbox that’s now in your home folder on your Mac (or in My Documents on a PC), will appear in your Dropbox on alllllll your other computers — and iPhones, and iPads, or Android phones, and pretty much anything that can see

For what it’s worth, there are other services like Dropbox out there, including but not limited to SugarSync and, but through sheer simplicity and elegance, Dropbox has so far garnered most of the love. The iPad app is off. The. Hook.

Thanks for inspiring a blog post!

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Rackspace’s newer, more affordable services + backup calculations

For the longest time, I had the perception that using the top-shelf service of San Antonio’s own Rackspace came solely at a top-shelf price. But their non-Exchange Rackspace Apps email service, at $2/user/year for 10GB email accounts, is the price level I’ve been seeking for non-free (read: non-Google Apps) hosted email. It’s a number my clients can quickly figure.

I have not yet tried the apps myself, but I wanna get these bookmarks up now, cos I think I’m going to be referring to them a lot:

Now, the data backup service — — is through Amazon S3, currently the go-to host for unlimited online storage. S3 exact pricing is found at

but we can sum it up as $0.15/GB (gigabyte)/month storage, and $0.10/GB transfer each way. So…

Say you have 50GB of data on to backup. It will cost 0.15×50 = $7.5/month storage, and 0.1×50 = $5 to get all your data backed up the first time.

Now, let’s suppose you change 200MB (megabyte) of your data each day. That’s

0.2×0.1 = $0.02/day, or 0.02×30 = $0.6/month.

And after 5 months, you’re paying another $0.15/month for storage. OK, that’s an easily affordable fee for most healthy businesses to afford. But what if you have more? Say, 400GB:

0.15×400 = $60/month storage, and 0.1×400 = $40/first transfer
0.1×1 = $0.10/day for backing up 1GB/day, which after an average month is an extra $3.

60×12 = $720/year, growing by $36/year, is going to be totally fine for some, but it’s enough to give many business owners pause. Nevertheless, it’s among the cheapest cloud storage out there, excepting services such as Carbonite. I’ve been recommending and installing Carbonite $5/month “unlimited” service, but I was disappointed to run recently into their 200GB ceiling, above which they throttle upload to 1GB/day. So maybe we use Rackspace for the bigger data stores. OK, enough numbers. I just needed to get those up here. Point being, Rackspace has some good stuff to look at, and I’m going to see how it goes with them. A couple of clients have already signed up. And, BTW, apropos of a previous post, I like Rackspace’s “What is…?” page, too:

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Article: The real reason why Steve Jobs hates Flash – Charlie’s Diary

The real reason why Steve Jobs hates Flash – Charlie’s Diary

(via Instapaper, which is soooo cool. Just bought Instapaper Pro [iTunes link] for the iPad. Makes reading the web fun and practical.)

I’ve about had it with on-site servers, especially the over-spec’ed variety. IT people think they have users over a barrel, and it’s only a matter of time before people wise up and discover how much they’ve been robbed, by technicians who don’t advise people about the most cost- and time-efficient uses of technology. I reserve judgment on whether the consultants don’t keep themselves educated out of laziness or selfishness.

I just spent two days bailing a business out of a wrongly configured server (it’s always DNS) — and that server was hosting their mail. I set ’em up with Google Apps, just because I needed them to have email while I was retooling their server. I’ve asked them to hang onto it for a while and see how they like it. At the very least, it’s still going to be the best method for calendar syncing. Meanwhile, I am anxious to work with them on finding alternatives for those time-worn, ubiquitous, and bothersome legal-practice apps such as Timeslips and Pro Docs. (A search for something like “legal” in Google Apps Marketplace is always fun.)

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Reservations about cloud services

While I fully understand the pros of a web-based “cloud” solution, I also consider the cons. These being: 1) if our internet connection goes down, so does our database, and 2) less data security as the database would be stored on someone else’s server. We could still copy data over to laptops for use away from the office – it just wouldn’t be updated/synced with the office database until return.

I really really really encourage you to examine the online CRM options, such as SugarCRM, and the ones listed in the Google Apps marketplace (which is where I look to find services who are keeping up with the Joneses). 

Online apps are, without question or doubt, The Future. I cannot state this strongly enough. The services being designed now make both life and business transactions so easy and flexible. Businesses who don’t buy into this future are wasting money and productive time — consider the cost, time, and often frustrating effort of designing a custom database from scratch, on an expensive platorm for which you have to buy a seat for each workstation. With the online apps, there’s nothing to install or update, and you can use it outside the office. User training is way faster.

I started using an online invoicing solution called Freshbooks recently, which has changed my life; check out the list of online CRM add-ons that integrate with their service.

I understand the reservations about internet going down and such, but that brings up the larger issue that, just by dint of email, if you have a single internet connection, and it craters, it’s likely to bring your business to a halt, or at least a stall, anyway. Which is why everyone should have at least one backup connection, preferably starting with an iPhone or Android phone. The second one could be something like a MiFi, although some of the Sprint phones let you turn them into a wifi hotspot for a few computers, which is awesome.

You knew I was going to say the next thing, but the most amazing and satisfying alternative second internet connection is an iPad with 3G. I’m very excited about how iPad and Android tablets are going to change the landscape, and online, cloud-based, Software-as-Service solutions are big, snow-peaked mountains in that landscape.

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New Mac, need more wireless, how about a mini media server?, and ready for Google Apps!

• I’m replacing my 2006 MBP with a shiny new one which will arrive this week – a fully loaded 15”.


• What’s the best migration approach?

Your new Mac will ask if you have an old Mac, and instruct you through booting the old one to “Target Disk Mode,” and connecting the Macs via FireWire. Then you hit “Go,” and ALLLLL your stuff — user accounts and home folders, applications, support files, network configurations — will get brought over to the new machine, which will finish booting and reveal itself to be just like your old one.

• I use SuperDuper to back up to local disks at home and at the office.

I love SuperDuper, and really like to use it in conjunction with Time Machine. They can coexist on the same backup drive, even if you set SuperDuper to “SmartUpdate.”

• Shared drive for the family network – mainly as a music server – just hang a drive off the Airport extreme?

The main thing to consider about an AirDisk (disk attached to an Airport, or the built-in hard drive of a Time Capsule) is that there’s no easy way to run daily, incremental backups from the AirDisk to another storage device. So the AirDisk is really best (read: solely) used as a backup itself. For home media server, one of my top three most favorite projects currently — which, incidentally, also include setting up a Mac mini with OS X Server in a business, and hooking a business or household together with Google Apps — is putting a beautiful little Mac mini with Server in the central entertainment system of a household, plugging it into a big flat-screen with HDMI, and making it the kickass, full-throttled media jukebox for the whole family.

Plus, the mini becomes central file and backup storage for every Mac on the property. Time Machine from Mac to Server is so very sweet.

Important to say at this point that there are some great, small PCs coming out with Windows Media Center (ewwwwwww!) or, better, Linux. They can run a media front-end such as Boxee that is pretty easy to operate with a simple remote. But without question, even in spite of its high price tag, the Mac — running Boxee and Plex and Hulu Desktop and maybe an EyeTV One — is currently the best platform for the job.

• My colleagues and I are ready to transition away from an in-house Microsoft environment – we have an Exchange server for 4 people – to Gmail, cloud storage, etc.

I am, as I say above, fully ready to help any business of any size move to Google Apps. It, and services closely related, are the best thing that has happened to the internet since the Web. And we are very able to do work in Austin, and lots can be done remotely.

• Upgrade the home network – right now running one Airport extreme which is not sufficient to cover the house – at some point I may need a wiring guy to enable broader wireless coverage.

Certainly ethernet cable is always the most reliable mode of networking. Everyone with a home, however, should know about PowerLine adapters: run network through your home electrical system. Sometimes cheaper per drop, depending on the house, but always more convenient than hiring a cabling contractor, especially if you only need, say, one or two more drops to attach to Airport Expresses, which are great for extending an Airport network.

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Project management and Google Apps Marketplace

I’m looking for another project-management solution. Basecamp just seems to confuse clients, consultants and staff. Definitely not a file-sharing solution. The only benefit I get is a task list with reminders. Whoopee. Their customer service is argumentative and unhelpful, and the workarounds too time-consuming. 

Have you played with Zoho Projects? 

Also, Google Apps Marketplace has just come into play. They’ve put a compelling new twist on the relatively-new-itself “app store” idea. Now, whenever I think “I need an online service that does [insert ingenious time-saving mechanism here],” I going straight to Marketplace.

I did a search for “project management”, and came up with a list of options — some free, some not. (Mind Meister Mind Mapping, recommended recently by a friend, was in there.) Then I saw the “Project Management” category in the navbar, which oddly came up with a differently sorted list with some different items.

Marketplace is interesting. The obvious immediate upside is “single sign-on,” i.e. signing into any of the listed services with your Google Apps login (in your case, the ID). They also list the benefit of “Google’s universal navigation.” I am definitely looking forward to imposing a consistent, extensible look between my cloud-based application — but I don’t know if that’s what “universal navigation” means yet.

I’ll admit I’ve had some problems getting a couple to work, especially with existing accounts at the respective services like Freshbooks. But I think it’s gonna be cool. By the way, I’m starting to see that Chrome should become one’s centre for all of this software-as-service, online app, cloud-tastic, web-2 stuff. Now I do all my research and reading in Safari, and all my mail, docs, invoicing, task management, and dish washing in Chrome. It’s just so springy!

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Online sketching & painting

I'm no artist, but since the iPad announcement, I have gotten excited by the creative image-manipulation possibilities opened by touch-on-a-tablet. What a cool portable canvas! 

I addition to mobile apps, some very impressive browser-based applications have come online, so to speak. All of these options give us the chance to express ideas digitally without necessarily having a computer around, or an expensive program whose myriad features we might barely tap.      

So I just wanted to name some of the good ones I know and see if anyone wants to add to the list:

Brushes has been on the iPhone for a little while, and was made famous by the artist who created a cover for the New Yorker on his phone. 

Sketchpad – Online Paint/Drawing application: My browser couldn't do this before. And it ain't Flash. Just heard about this on This Week in Google. Aviary used to cost, but they just slashed the price clean off. Image editing, video effects editing, vector drawing, image markup, sound editing… None of the individual components of this incredible suite of tools would, by themselves, replace their desktop-installed competitors. They're kind of sluggish, and lack ergonomics like shortcuts. But it's a boon to have them available whenever, wherever. And they have a plug-in for Google Apps. 

SketchBook Mobile [iTunes] by Autodesk: Looks like the best sketching tool for the iPhone. I like the layers feature a lot. Autodesk is the developer most entrenched among architects, and SketchBook comes in way handy for marking up drawings in the field.

There are tons of photo-manipulation apps for the iPhone, like Photoshop Mobile and TiltShift Generator (both of which, by the way, also have web apps here and here), but I'll just leave off here or I'll be hunting and testing all night.

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Flippin’ the switch on the PR machine

Thanks to Alan Weinkrantz for producing this profile of J2. Filmed at SAY Sí, we wanted to focus on the benefits of OS X Server, and the fun stuff we’re doing with Google Apps.

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Do we need a server?

I remember the first time I became aware of the word “server.” For some reason it sounded very mysterious, something that required arcane tools and deep learning with the elves in the mountains.

Eventually, I came to figure out that a “server” is simply a computer — any computer — that provides “services” to other computers. If you computer can share its files, it’s a file server. If you turn iTunes music sharing on, your computer becomes a music server. If you have a shared printer, your computer has become a print server.

Apple makes it super-easy to turn any Mac into a server by going to Apple menu > System Preferences > Sharing (or Spotlight “sharing”) and turning on any of the services you need. Your Mac will then show up in the “Shared” section of any Finder window. Boom, you got a server.

That said, when most people refer to a server, they’re talking about some machine that doesn’t do anything else, a box that’s tucked away, maybe in a rack or a closet, and always on, with a nice big battery backup, maybe a few hard drives, and fans like a wind tunnel. And most servers on the planet should be that robust; I need Google’s mail servers or my web server at GoDaddy never to go down, or at least, if they do need a reboot, that there’s a backup server waiting next to it in the data center to kick in as soon as its brother goes down.

A lot of businesses have one or more servers at the workplace. Sometimes they’re just file servers, a central repository for the documents that everyone needs access. Sometimes they’re also mail servers. Running your email through a Windows Exchange Server housed in your office was a popular option among Microsoft-certified professionals at a time when outsourced email hosts weren’t as flexible or affordable as they are now.

Again, to be clear: most organizations with fewer than 40 or 50 users would be wasting precious money to purchase Microsoft Small Business Server, when they can sign up with Google Apps either for free or for $50/user/year (40 users for $2,000/year, versus an easy $5,000 just to install and configure, not to mention maintain and troubleshoot, a Windows Server).

So let’s say you just need to share documents among more than 10 people, and you need them available all the time, and time without them costs money. Until this last Tuesday, the best value in a server-class machine was Apple’s Xserve

Way powerful, way configurable, way manageable – The specs on each generation of Xserve have been increasingly impressive, and it starts at a $3,000 base price that has always included the $1,000 OS X Server (unlimited-client; Windows Server starts at 5 users, and costs $50 per user after that). Most Xserve buyers should expect to pay at least $5,000-6,000 for a properly configured unit with 3 hard drives, a redundant supply, external backups, and if one is smart, the AppleCare server support plan. I can usually have a new OS X Server set up, with a few connected workstations, in under 6 hours.

A Bit of History

Apple’s server software (a.k.a. server operating system, or “OS”) is Mac OS X Server, now in version 10.6 (a.k.a. Snow Leopard Server). For so many years, AppleShare server products (still promoted in Australia!) distinguished themselves in IT discourse only by being pretty crappy. It just didn’t have the moxy that system admins were used to getting from Microsoft Windows NT or its descendants. And when OS X Server came out — it was actually the first release of OS X — it was really more of a theory than an operating system. Even though it was built on the well-established UNIX platform, it was buggy and slow, and it had these really weird quirks that made it very frustrating. Certainly it was impossible for an IT administrator to recommend that a business rely on this system for their day-to-day operations. 

Today, OS X Server has evolved into a robust, stable platform, one that’s easy to set up, easy to expand and scale, and like the basic OS X (we might call it “OS X client”), Server is impressively compatible with other platforms and standards. Since OS X Server and the Xserve came into their own, and given products such as Xsan and Final Cut Server, Apple is officially a viable player in the world of business and enterprise.

The Value of a Server

Is all of this worth several thousand dollars to your organization? It sure can be, once you realize the other things you can do with a server, which I’ll get to in a second. First, I have to say that this article is inspired by Apple’s announcement today of a Mac mini server. This $1,000 box is now potentially my favorite item in the entire product line, as I think it spells great things for businesses large and small. Considering that Apple has now slashed the price of the software itself to an unbeatable $500 for unlimited users, buying into a Microsoft server product now just seems unwise and wasteful.

So what can you do with a server? Check this out:

  • File Sharing, Network homes, and Backups: We can tie all of your Macs to your server so that the “home folder” for each user account is stored on the server. This means anybody can use any Mac in the house, and use their own desktop and files and email and settings. And if one computer dies, you put a new one in its place, log that person in, et voila! You’re back in business.

    • Portable Home Directories: This includes laptops, which can sync their accounts to the server, backing themselves up whenever they’re in the office.
  • Software Updates: We can have the server download all your software updates, and the administrator can pick and choose which one should be rolled out. When someone logs in, even a non-admin user, they’ll have an opportunity to install the approved updates, and their Mac only has to go across the office network, not all the way back to Apple’s servers.

  • Preferences: You can choose apply settings for all users in one fell swoop: adding a printer, adding items to the Dock, or automatically mounting a share point [definition]; or perhaps restricting things along the order of parental controls, or preventing or allowing certain applications.

  • NetBoot & NetRestore: You can actually have your Macs start up from a disk image [definition] on the server. If you need to update all Macs, just update the image. A variation on this idea is to have the Macs install themselves from a central image.

Of all of these possibilities, certainly it is having a centralized place for data storage and backup, and for backing up your workstations, that makes in-house servers attractive, and possibly essential, for any organization of any size. 

Keep your head in the cloud

I say possibly essential, because there are now services on the internet, such as Google Docs and DropBox, that have begun replacing server hardware for many people. I am all in favor of using these online applications, with the sole caution that we don’t rely on them to back up our data. It is crucial to keep an on-premises copy of every piece of data that means anything to you, just as keeping an offsite copy is de rigueur in any comprehensive backup scheme. I use a Firefox plug-in that downloads all my Google docs, and I backup that folder to an external hard drive.

But if you need fast, reliable storage that all your computers can see, to centralize your data and keep your Macs humming in unison, there’s nothing like a properly configured OS X Server.

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