What’s a “widget”?

That’s a reasonable question, given the silly history of the word:

a small gadget or mechanical device, especially one whose name is unknown or unspecified.

If you just want to know how it applies to your iPhone and Mac, skip the first few paragraphs.

In the software world, the story goes a little like this:

Yahoo bought a company years ago, called Konfabulator, who used the term to refer to a kind of mini-app. These little apps would show or do simple things — like weather, a calculator, a clock and calendar, a stock feed, package trackers — any single-purpose kind of information that you’d want to access or manipulate quickly. 

Konfabulator ran their widgets in a dashboard, an overlay on the rest of the stuff on your computer screen. You could have them floating on top or behind, or pop out from the side of your display, I can’t remember all the possibilities.

So Yahoo got ‘em and changed the name to Yahoo! Widgets, and pretty soon everybody was jumping on board. (“Widget” apparently has become a standardized term in software.) Apple put a Dashboard in OS X (still there but probably going away soon), Microsoft called them gadgets in Windows, you get the picture.

This year, Apple introduced a feature into iOS and the Mac, where you can add widgets to your Notifications screen. They are a very cool way to get quick information, and even to add notes and to-do items.

With my Philips Hue lights and the new Hue widget, I can even change the lighting scheme in my home! I just turned my office lights on and the den lights off, in two swipes and one click, without leaving my chair. 

Here’s how to add widgets in the Today view on your iPhone and on your Mac

Widgets I like:

There are more on the phone at the moment. We are waiting for Mac developers to release some goodies.

Note: I’ve used my App Store and Amazon affiliate links.

Whither goeth Save As?

Now that I am using Preview instead of Adobe Reader, I am having trouble saving documents. There is no Save As… feature in the File menu!

You’re not alone in confusion! Apple replaced Save As… with Duplicate.

There is a good reason for it: Mac apps — the good ones at least — now save automatically, all the time. They even remember versions of themselves (File > Revert).

So now, you can make a copy by going to File > Duplicate, then File > Save. Also, as always, option-drag and copy/paste still work in the Finder.

Apple has a nice write-up of the feature in this article.

But it still feels weird not to have Save As!

Discover the Dictionary

By Glenn Anderson
It’s just an application in the Applications folder, but there are lots of quick ways to get at the deep information stored in the Mac’s Dictionary.

There are two ways to view Dictionary: as a pop-up panel, an unobtrusive semi-transparent window with basic information; or as a normal application with a full-fledged window. Use it either way.

There are two ways to access Dictionary: through a contextual menu, which is what you get when you right-click on items; and through Dictionary’s main window, like any other application.

Screen Shot 2011-11-21 at 11.19.36 pm.png

Try right-clicking on a word in a web page or a text document. You’ll see Look Up in Dictionary in the contextual menu. Choose it, and whammo! You’ve got your definition. It’s that easy.

You can improve on that little definition, however. Open the Dictionary application, then go to its Preferences (in the application menu, to the right of the Apple menu:

  • Check the boxes for all the sources you want information from when you look up a word. (I’ve got them all checked.*) Selecting individual sources in the list sometimes gives you more options: for Dictionary, for example, you can choose which pronunciation you want displayed.
  • (10.6 and earlier) In Contextual Menu, below the list of sources, choose whether you want a panel or a full window to open when you right-click on a word.
  • Choose a font size as well. There are buttons for enlarging and reducing text size in the main window so don’t think too hard about this setting now.

Close the Preferences window and you’re done!

Power Tips

  • Ctrl-Command-D on any word in almost any Mac app, including browsers. (Yet another benefit of ditching Microsoft Office!)
  • Lion Users: try a 3-finger tap on a word to get a definition. Sweet.
  • When reading in Dictionary, you can click on words to get their definitions too. It’s a great way to delve further. Use the forward and back buttons like in Safari and Finder.

*If you have languages besides English enabled on your Mac you might have the option of a language dictionary too.

J2 News: Buy, Sell, or Hold

What a fantastic bunch of new toys and tools to talk about! Since Lion, iPhone 4S, iOS 5, and iCloud have come out, we have some recommendations to make. Here goes:

iOS 5: Go get it!

The free update to iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches is nothing but awesome. Better notifications, better messaging, faster camera access, readable web pages in Safari, and location-based reminders… Whew. I’m really pleased by the whole lot of features. Run, don’t walk, to update your iTunes to 10.5, and then plug in your iPad or iPhone (3GS or later).

notifications

You’ll be invited to begin updating your device to iOS 5.0. Agree to the license, yadda yadda, and it will start downloading. Might take a while, depending on your internet speed, and then iTunes will start applying the update to your gadget.

The entire process can take between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on how much stuff you keep on your phone or tablet, so set it running when you can be without your little digital lifeline for a bit. (I know. I get the shakes too, sometimes.)
 

iPhone 4S: Can I have mine now, please?

4sphoto

The camera: Best-in-class.
Performace: Darn right I want two processor cores in my pocket.
That voice control thing. Magic.

(Many of you already have Siri Assistant on your phones, because we put it there, starting about two years ago. As of today, that older version is defunct.)

I chose not to pre-order my iPhone 4S, because I remember the 3GS+MobileMe debacle two years ago. As eager as I can get for the latest-and-greatest, I don’t need it badly enough to justify downtime. But anyone ordering from now on will receive the phone long after iCloud is in full swing, thus enabling some very cool features, including photo sync between devices.

It’s so worth mentioning that iPhones, even older ones, bring a great price on Craigslist, and newer ones can be easily sold to Gazelle.com, an incredibly easy place to unload your old gadgets.
 

Lion: Hold Til Ready

OS X 10.7 “Lion” is lovely. A tasty chocolate coating around a very solid, nutritious walnut of a system that was 10.6 Snow Leopard.

They called me Coleridge in pre-school.

Lion

Most people will want to upgrade to Lion, and will be very happy with the new system. Installing is easy: If you have Snow Leopard, and you keep up with Software Updates, you can buy Lion for $29 from the Mac App Store in your Dock. It will install itself right in place, restarting when it needs to.

Many features in Lion are refreshing, especially the full-screen modes available in many apps. Schedule us at j2mac.com and we’ll show you how to use multi-touch gestures, recover auto-saved versions of your documents, and organize your workspaces!

Auto-resume of apps and documents after a reboot is easy to get used to. Scooting around your workspace with a trackpad instead of a mouse is the wave of the future. Apple has reduced visual clutter, and aimed at keeping their users productive. (Some of the prettiness in Lion I can do without. A lot of it I turn off, grateful there’s a switch.)

But Lion is still young, and a bit wobbly. We’ve found instabilities in iChat and elsewhere, and some things just don’t seem to work like they should. A second update, 10.7.2, just hit on October 12, and we are hoping it will clear up some of the inconsistencies.

Another issue affecting long-time Mac users is that programs written before 2006 won’t run on Lion. At all. This includes Microsoft Office 2004 and Internet Explorer. Good riddance and all, for sure; but a lot of you don’t have Office 2008 or 2011, and at least one office still needs IE for the Mac for time tracking.

We’ll look at iCloud in a sec. It’s very slick… and it requires Lion. I’ve upgraded my MobileMe to iCloud, so because I can’t live without Address Book syncing between all my computers, I am going to have to upgrade my second laptop this weekend. I just have to go through my applications and figure out what I need to export from those older programs. Most newer Mac users won’t have to deal with this process at all, but we are happy to help those who do.

Organizations with a bunch of Macs should hold off for now, until a hardware or software upgrade requires them to move forward. For businesses using a Mac server, I’m also officially recommending against upgrading to Lion Server until at least 10.7.3.
 

iCloud: The point is moot, the cloud is yours

iCloud is the very worthy successor to MobileMe. If you are using MobileMe, you will transition to iCloud services by June 2012. If you have a new iPhone or iPad, or you update to iOS 5, you’ll be living in the iCloud.

When it launched, iCloud had some trouble, and I couldn’t sign up until a day later. But everything seems clear now, and I am so far very pleased by iCloud’s function: Photo Stream syncs your photos from iPhone to iPad to iPhone. The Find My Mac feature could recover your computer from theft.

It does appear that all your MobileMe configurations will continue to work until next year, so if you are hanging onto older phones and computers for a bit, you don’t have to be rushed about making the move. Give us a call at 210-787-2709 or email our new Help Desk! at help@j2mac.com and we’ll make sure it all goes smoothly.
 

In memoriam

Jobs

Steve Jobs is directly responsible for my livelihood, my passion for technology, and even many of my hobbies and pastimes. Even for this 1984-baptized Mac geek, computers were clunky, nearly pointless contraptions until Steve returned to Apple in 1997. (Perhaps the internet helped a little.) I may no longer be the Apple fanboy that I once was, but I’m awed to have witnessed this fundamental change in our civilization that this one guy helped usher in.

“If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

Your man in the cloud,

Jonathan

J2 News: Reality & Rumor

Nothing like a good Apple keynote to stir it all back up again. Last month, Jobs and Co. unveiled their next generation software, with good, solid material for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and even for this new-fangled internet the kids are on about all the time. And what’s all this 3G/4G stuff?

I gotta admit, until Apple made their big June presentation, this year had been ho-hum for this nerd. New iPad — yeah, cool, whatever, but wasn’t there supposed to be a whole mess of tablets, each cooler than the next? Meh. Even when they finally shipped, they failed to impress.

Then we got a faceful of geek downers: WikiLeaks persecuted, Sony’s networks disabled, and hacks and security breaches every day. Unfortunately, it’s time for me devote a whole ’nuther couple of newsletters to the darker side of the Internet. I am even gonna beg that everyone either read ’em, or otherwise educate themselves on keeping their data secure.

Party on, Steve!But I want to do the FUN STUFF FIRST!

Nothing like a good Apple keynote to stir it all back up again. Last month, Jobs and Co. unveiled their next generation software, with good, solid material for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and even for this new-fangled internet the kids are on about all the time.

The Mobile

For the phone and tablet, we’re getting a bunch of new features in the fall. You can read about all the goodness in iOS 5, but among my favorite bits are quicker camera access, wireless syncing and backups, notifications all grown up, and instantly legible articles in Safari. Bold & italics in email, too… Hey, anyone wanna know how I just did that on my iPad?

There are some hot ’n’ heavy rumors about built-in voice control and voice-to-text transcription. These goodies, as well as turn-by-turn navigation, already distinguish Android from the Apple devices. Perhaps these boons will be bestowed upon the iFaithful this year. Perhaps typing on the iPhone will no longer suck quite so bad.

Perhaps iPhone will come with a flying rainbow gumdrop pony.

One other credible guess is that a new iPhone will hit in time for the holidays. Nerds and analysts predict a refresh of the current phone, with faster “4G” Internet.

4G hypeBy the way, in case this whole “3G/4G” thing has you muddled, you’re not alone. The phone companies have deliberately confused you. Here’s the scoop:

”G” does stand for “generation,” not of the iPhone, but of cell phones in general. It mostly refers to the internet on your phone.

  • 1G was the first consumer-affordable cell phone network. Remember the big bricks in the 80’s, with fat rubber antennae and batteries with lives shorter than a ballpark hot dog?
  • 2G was the first digital cell network. Think your first cell phone: candybar-size, with a black-and-grey screen. Made phone calls, and we thought it good. This second generation eventually featured the mobile internet. The first iPhone was advanced 2G, featuring slow, but functional, web surfing.
  • 3G is where most of us are now. Darn good internet, serving most people’s needs. The second, third, and fourth iPhones have all been 3G.
  • The term “4G” is controversial. It actually refers to a specific standard for super-fast wireless internet… that doesn’t actually exist in the real world, at least not in a commercially available form. The cell phone companies, unwilling to wait for this tech to become viable, have instead rolled out networks that are indeed faster than 3G, and called them “4G.” The nerds have moaned and groused, but they don’t got the money, honey.

Make sense? All the other major cell phone manufacturers and carriers have successful 4G [sic] products. The main beef with the current lineup is real sad battery life. I want to guess that this issue prevented Apple from releasing an iPhone in June. If they can get a faster phone, with a faster connection, and uncompromised power supply, they’ll have the competition beat once again.

Credit to Engadget’s primer on the subject.

To date, the iPhone models have been iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3G S (for “speed”), and iPhone 4. Most pundits are guessing at “iPhone 4G.”

If you own an iPhone 4, and don’t find yourself thinking, “Gosh, I wish this was faster,” then perhaps you’d want to wait ’til next year for an upgrade. Owners of older phones might look to the autumn to renew their contract and get a spankin’ new subsidized jobby. And remember, you can always ditch your old phone on sites like Gazelle for a tidy sum.

(Another prediction calls for a 4G iPad this autumn, but I bet against it.)

The Mac

lion logoThe Mac operating system is getting a big makeover, too. Mac OS X 10.7 is nicknamed Lion, and I will spare you any feline puns now. You’re welcome.

The big new features, coming to Macs in July as a download in the Mac App Store (!) are listed here. I am curious to see whether the average Mac user takes to things like full-screen apps and document grouping, but Auto Save, Versions, and Resume rank up with Time Machine and Spotlight as major moves forward: imagine never ever losing work again! Perhaps it won’t be fail-proof at first, but I like to imagine it’ll be close enough to save our collective butt consistently.

Mission ControlOn the geekier hardware side: The latest refreshes of iMacs and Pro laptops feature the new, blazing-fast Thunderbolt data port, and this is big news for the near future of computing. We want to move stuff quick between computer and backup or other storage. Conventional hard drives feel slow, and so does USB, compared to the new solid-state drives (SSD) that started appearing in the first MacBook Air in 2008. SSDs are now common, though still comparatively expensive; Thunderbolt connections will increase demand for faster storage, which will bring prices down.

What this could mean for you: getting hundreds of pictures and videos off your camera in seconds, copying high-def movies to your media jukebox in a snap, and backups happening so quickly you don’t even think about it.

Last I heard, inventory of Mac minis, MacBook Airs, and Mac Pros is dwindling, and I think we are getting ready to see at least new Mac minis with Lion Server and Thunderbolt. I have been holding out for a new media server and a new laptop. I’m saving up!

I also want to state here and now my own most ridiculous prediction: a slim rack-mountable server appliance to replace the Xserve (R.I.P. 2011). I want a solid-state drive to boot quickly, and two 500GB hard drives for data. And I want Windows guys to pee themselves when they see it.

As to when I recommend you upgrade, it’s easiest for me to hold to my recommendations for prior versions: If you really need to, OK, but if you can hold off until Apple’s goes through a couple of revisions, you’ll increase your chance of a smooth transition. Server owners, especially, should wait at least until 10.7.2 or thereabouts.

The Maybe

The real curiosity in Apple’s presentation was iCloud, an online service to succeed MobileMe, and then some. It will cost exactly nothing.

The things iCloud purports to do include:

  • sync your contacts, calendar, and other data
  • store documents for easy access on any device or computer
  • automatically backup any photos taken on the mobile devices to the internet, making them instantly available on all your other devices and computers
  • automatically sync anything you purchase in iTunes between devices.

In addition, for $25 a year, we’ll get iTunes Match, which will be a bit of magic I’ve craved for years — the ability to store music I already own so that you can play it anywhere. This will not be limited to stuff I’ve bought through iTunes. Any mp3 or AAC file I have on any computer will either be uploaded to Apple’s servers, or matched against a track already hosted by iTunes.

As I mentioned in this blog post, Apple’s history of online services has been at times spotty, ill-conceived, or poorly implemented. This time, they seem to be serious about learning from their mistakes, and their new giant data center in North Carolina speaks to a new dedication to keeping our stuff safe and accessible. ICloud sounds like a serious, considered utility aimed to solve some very real, very new problems.

That said, “cloud computing” means using all of the online services pertinent to one’s work and lifestyle. Apple mostly creates solutions for individual consumers, and just a few for businesses. Just as MobileMe never became “MobileUs,” iCloud is not intended to be “weCloud,” and the marketplace for online solutions for businesses large and small continues to grow and thrive. Besides the obvious lifestyle applications, I’m totally jazzed to see how businesses can use all this shiny new Apple tech to keep bringing in the bacon. We know we’ll have a good soundtrack while we fry it up.

In a couple of days, I’ll put out two security emails. Please stay tuned!

Do I need to maintain my Mac?

What do you think about “Clean My Mac” from http://www.macpaw.com/?

It seems like an impressive app that could do a little too much in the wrong hands. I’m on a laptop and could use a little cleaning up and like the idea of dumping excessive language files and PPC binaries. Would love to hear your thoughts.

In answering, I’m going first to name, but not spend time defining, the various tasks involved in maintaining Mac OS X. Then I’ll discuss the software that I use to perform those tasks.

Oh yeah: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE backup your entire hard drive before doing any of this. Heck, even before you read this article.

Maintenance Tasks

Before anything else, it’s important to know that, since Panther and even more since Tiger, Mac OS X does most of its essential maintenance in the background. It runs the daily, weekly, and monthly Unix maintenance scripts on a more fluid schedule, remembering to do them even if your Mac was asleep when they were officially scheduled. Also, ye olde venerable “disk defragmentation,” familiar to many 90’s-era Mac and PC users, is somewhat automated but mostly much less necessary, for reasons Apple spells out in this kBase doc.

One task that used to be more commonly recommended to fix lots of issues with OS X is “Repairing Disk Permissions.” I used to use Disk Utility to run this when someone said their Mac was running slow (and they had clearly adequate RAM and processor), but because developers have had time to become savvy about OS X’s file-permissions scheme, the task is less likely to do or fix anything. Still, I usually turn it on as an option when I run the software that I’ll describe below.

Also in Disk Utility one will find “Repair Disk,” which since Tiger can be run while a machine is booted — all other activities are halted — to tell you if the volume data on your startup disk is screwed up.

Finally, a step that still seems relevant to keeping a Mac running smoothly is deleting cache files, specifically the Font, Kernel, and Application Caches. I have found lots of miscellaneous, weird problems — from apps crashing to fonts not rendering — resolved by a cache zapping. Also, since the dawn of the World Wide Web, web browsers have occasionally needed their caches cleaned. Safari features Empty Cache as a menu item in its “application menu,” i.e. the menu to the immediate right of the Apple, which in Safari is called “Safari.”

Cleanup Tasks

This is a more nebulous topic, since different people need different things on their hard drives. Also, as drive capacity has increased, now to way more than most of our clients need, many drives wear out with plenty of unused space. But of course, the idea of removing unneeded 0s and 1s from your storage is always appealing. It’s gratifying to let slough away PPC binaries, the OS 9 System Folder, Previous Systems, obviated applications, additional language support and fonts, yadda yadda yadda.

Maintenance and Cleanup Apps

Several programs have appeared over the years to automate these maintenance tasks and more. The crucial thing to know about these applications is that they are only graphical interfaces (GUIs) to the very simple Unix commands that make the tasks happen. I learned back in 10.1 to type:

sudo periodic daily weekly monthly
diskutil repairPermissions

(note the capital “P”), and

fsck -yf

(that last from single-user mode, accessed by booting while holding down Command-S).

Those commands accomplish much of the aforementioned tasks, and do it without installing, much less buying, anything. The apps save one from having to remember this stuff, but as the tasks are rarely required, paying $15 for an app seems kind of weird. That said, many apps will let you run a full-featured trial.

(An aside: I wonder if some Mac developers could benefit from the iPhone App Store model and start looking at $1-$3 tags for certain smaller desktop apps; would sales go up?)

A search for “maintenance” at MacUpdate.com yields the most established titles. Of these, I actively used Cocktail for a while, but since the free Maintenance and Onyx from Titanium Software came about, I have seen no reason to use any other tools. Maintenance is the simplest thing going: one window with a few checkboxes; turn on the ones you want and hit go. Onyx takes the hood off a lot of system services and features, and lets you run the same tasks as Maintenance to boot. They will both wisely ask to run “Verify Disk” before they do anything else. That takes a few minutes, but it’s well spent.

This is a good point to mention that, if Disk Utility’s Verify or Repair functions find something that they cannot fix, you will need to pick up an application such as Disk Warrior or TechTool Pro. These are each pricey but rock solid, and they repair the dramatic damage or corruption of your volume information that can cause data loss.

To bring your Mac to a space- and performance-saving English-only state, I’ve always liked Monolingual. A MacOSXHints user posted an Automator script for 10.4 that strips the languages and also PowerPC code from applications, but I want to examine it before I use it in 10.6. Here’s another, also older, article and another app for removing PPC from Universal Binaries.

Regarding CleanMyMac specifically, I haven’t used it, and with a 200MB cleanup limit on the trial, I have little need to put $15 toward that. (I’m not knocking the developer’s price, just… well, see above.) Monolingual should do the language diet for you, and to maintain stability, I would greatly encourage you to download Intel-only versions of your apps. Remember, too, that Snow Leopard is itself Intel-only, so the Apple apps are not Universal.

You will backup before running these apps, right?

Posted via email from J2 Tech Blog

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”.

Woohoo!

• 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.

Posted via email from J2 Tech Blog