The Computer Blog

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Reconfiguring my PC to run alongside my dual G5 PowerMac

For quite some time now, I’ve been wanting to add some writing surface and a bookcase to my office; but with two Macs and a Windows XP powered PC each occupying their own desks, I just didn’t have room. Over the last two weeks, I’ve been reconfiguring my computing set-up and can proudly report I now have a drafting table and bookcase in my office after skinning down to two computing work centers. I eliminated the PC workstation but not the PC by hooking it up to share my PowerMac dual G5’s monitor, keyboard, and mouse. I’m running the PC with an Apple 20 inch Cinema Display (LCD), an Apple keyboard (USB), and a Logitech MX500 mouse. The keyboard and mouse, as well as a Griffin PowerMate, are hooked into the Apple Cinema Display’s USB ports, and the monitor is controlled via an IOGEAR ADC KVM switch. I’m also using an Apple ADC to DVI adapter to interface the PC with the KVM switch and thereby the Apple Cinema Display. It works really great.

For those of you who have run Apple Cinema Displays (LCD) with PC’s and are now thinking I can’t see my bios screens, you can quit worrying. Using an ATI Radeon 9550 AGP video card has solved that problem, as long as I ensure that the IOGEAR switch has the PC selected before I start the PC up. If not, then I don’t see anything on the monitor until XP boots.

To get there, though, I did have to make some sacrifices. I had been maintaining a dual-boot Windows system running Windows XP on one partition and Windows 98SE on another. I was trying to accommodate some older flight simulators: a space shuttle landing simulator, Microsoft Space Simulator, and Vertigo, a DOS based flight simulator that allowed me to fly an F-14 aboard the ship (and was as hard to fly a real F-14 simulator). The reality was I didn’t have Space Sim loaded, the space shuttle lander wasn’t running right, and I hadn’t flown Vertigo in a very long time. There was some GPS software I was maintaining on Windows 98SE, but I recently learned that the company who made my GPS (Lowrance) had stopped producing database updates anyway. So my reasons for maintaining a Windows 98SE system and a LCD capable of running 640 x 480 resolutions had evaporated. By moving my PC over to work with my Apple Cinema Display, I could use its beautiful screen when running more modern flight simulators and eliminate the need for a work center. The PowerMac was occupying a lower corner of a Studio RTA Saturn workcenter that could easily accommodate two tower-type CPU’s. Additionally, under Windows XP my Radeon 9550 fully supports the Apple Cinema Display’s 1680 x 1050 resolution but under Windows 98SE 1600 x 1200 is the best I can get. Because of all that and the hassle and expense of maintaining virus checking and disk utilities twice over, I decided to give up the Windows 98SE capability on my PC. Doing so would also let me recover 30GB of space on the boot hard disk allocated to that system.

Reconfiguring the PC to an XP-only system is where things got interesting. The PC had been partitioned so that Windows 98SE was on the boot partition of the boot drive (C drive) and Windows XP on its second (E drive). I used Powerquest’s (now Symantec’s) Partition Magic 7.0 to merge partitions, replacing the C partition with the E partition, and to set the new partition “active”. That took several hours; the software handled the task single-handedly during the night. When I tried to boot into the “new” partition, though, I got the dreaded “NTLDR not found” message, which means the system could find the files it needed to boot. I booted the PC using my Windows XP CD and tried to repair the boot sector by using “FIXBOOT” and “FIXMBR” commands, but neither did any good. The only thing left to do was to let Windows XP attempt a repair. So, I booted the PC again using the Windows XP CD and selected that option.

Essentially, that amounts to a reinstallation of the operating system over the one I already had. Indeed, that did work with one caveat, i.e., my USB keyboard and mouse stopped working.

Now, that’s no small thing. The whole set-up was dependent on the PC accepting those inputs. Otherwise, I’d have to crowd the desk with a PS2 keyboard and mouse as well as the USB units. Things were going to get ugly if I couldn’t get them working again.

From past experience with XP “repairs”, I knew that it’s best to reload drivers to ensure that everything is well in the registry and the right files have been deposited in their various folders. I reloaded the motherboard’s chipset and USB drivers, but neither of those seemed to help. Since the PC had been working just fine with the USB units before the repair, it made sense that an XP upgrade might make things better. So, I logged the system onto Windows Update and let her rip after manually loading SP1 and SP2 from CD.

Adding SP1 didn’t fix the problem. But adding SP2 did.

I wound up reloading the ATI video drivers and applications as well, but everything else seems to be working without a reinstallation. I did have to re-activate Word XP, but that went without a hitch.

The one funky thing remaining is that the boot partition is seen as drive E. Partition Magic can remap the drive and Windows from E to C, but I haven’t convinced myself yet it’s worth risking. For now, my system doesn’t have a “C” drive. So far, it hasn’t appeared to need one.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sprint Samsung SP-i600 Smartphone on a Mac

For the last couple of years, I’ve been wanting a cell phone and PDA combo that still had a phone form-factor. I also thought I wanted to move onto the Windows PocketPC operating system mainly because it seemed like there were a lot more applications available and with greater functionality than those for the Palm OS. I was waiting for Palm to release their Windows powered Treo, but that was before my wife and I went phone shopping and I saw the Samsung SP-i600.

It wasn’t a big deal for us to switch wireless carriers to get it. Our Verizon contract had expired; and, indeed, an overzealous Verizon sales representative opened the door to our leaving her company when she extended out contract for a year without letting us know that’s what she was doing. We got the contract rescinded but also had to turn in my wife’s replacement phone to make that happen. If you’ve been reading my blogs, then you know her purse was stolen out of one of our vehicles a couple of weeks ago. Her cell phone as well as a couple of iPod’s where in there. So, the whole contract rescinding deal left her without a phone. But there was still no way I was going to sign onto anything without examining my options first. As we were looking online for phones and plans with different carriers, I stumbled on the Samsung SP-i600. It was love at first sight.

I am an ex-Sprint customer. We left them because of poor customer service and inability to get Sprint coverage at her parents’ house in Missouri or a good signal at our house in Texas. We looked into whether that might have changed and found that Sprint now covered her part of Missouri and we could get a good signal at the house. As for customer service, that remained to be seen. After spending 90 minutes in the Sprint store (and at least 30 minutes of that was just spent waiting for service), we’re not sure about the customer service part but decided to risk it.

The Samsung SP-i600 looks like a phone and works like one. Text and command inputs are made using the phone’s keypad. No stylus is available. It uses Windows Mobile 2003 as an operating system, and the phone comes with a leather case, an AC power adapter, a USB dock that synchronizes and can charge the phone if the power adapter is plugged into it), a headset, a CD containing Outlook 2003 and Microsoft’s Active Synch, and a couple of small user manuals. Of course, the Mac platform is not supported, something stated on Samsung’s Support website.

I bought and downloaded a copy of PocketMac for Smartphones and used it to synchronize the phone’s Contacts with Apple’s Address Book and its Calendar with the Calendar in Entourage 2004. The one shortcoming of running Windows Mobile vice Palm on the Mac is there is no good way to synchronize Entourage’s Notes with phone, no matter which Mac based synchronization utility I run. I worked around that problem by opening up new address entries in Apple’s Address Book using the “company” moniker and copied and pasted the information from the Entourage Notes into the Notes field in each entry. (I could have done the same thing using Entourage by pasting information into the Other/Notes field in Entourage Address Book entries.)

So far, I really like this phone. It wasn’t cheap, costing $350 after discounts, but I intend to keep it for a while, so I believe it will be worth it. It’s a joy to carry around clipped on my belt, unlike the big clump of a phone and PDA I used to. And its battery life seems to be really good. I’m not recharging it as much as I did my regular phone. All in all, it was a good buy.

The Trouble Has Started; The Hacking of OS X

Not too long ago I wrote that one of the unintended consequences of Mac’s move to the x86 (Intel) architecture would be that hack attacks on OS X would increase. It was widely reported that OS 10.4.1 had been hacked so it would run on non-Apple hardware. Apple thought it had changed up 10.4.3 to stop that; the news on the Net this morning is that the latest version of Tiger has been hacked again, and it is running not only on PC hardware but older Apple hardware not intended for Tiger as well. The hacker bypassed the security feature (called Trusted Platform Module) not by hacking TPM itself (which is considered unbreakable…and if you believe that..) but by somehow “convincing” the operating systems it didn’t need it.

By the time Apple releases its next operating system they will have found a way to plug the current hole, but, inevitably, someone out there will find another. I think it is very unlikely that Apple will have any significant success at locking down its operating systems to its own hardware. Apple probably has the legal resources to stop any legitimate effort to run OS X on anything other than Apple systems, at least until someone launches an anti-trust suit to open the situation up. If that anti-trust suit is launched by a major company, then Apple could find itself in court under the same laws used to prosecute Microsoft, even if for different reasons. At some point, as Apple market share increases, that most certainly will happen.

Even if Apple doesn’t have to deal with that for a while, it will most certainly see a proliferation of hacked copies of OS X floating around in the world. From the company’s standpoint, those losses would hit them on two significant fronts. One, of course, would be the lost revenue from not selling a copy of OS X; and the other would be the loss of revenue from not selling its own hardware. Unfortunately, this has the potential to cause Apple significant financial harm.

Is there a solution to that? Yes. Stay with PowerPC.

Now, I know Apple isn’t going to do that. And it will be interesting to see what happens. I hope Apple pulls it off, but I fear that Apple is opening a Pandora’s Box of security and financial problems it did not think through, or perhaps, arrogantly convinced itself it would not have to deal with. It may turn out that despite the added speed the Intel CPU’s bring, the happiest Apple customers will be those who remained behind with PowerPC and the way the Mac experience used to be.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

D-Link Gamer Router (DGL-4300)

What is a “wireless gamer”, you ask? It is someone who plays game wirelessly, of course. While that’s not me, I still wound up with good reason to buy this router and give it a shot.

A week ago, I wanted to turn my Windows XP PC into an entertainment center. My wife put the kibosh on that plan; she didn’t want the PC in the other bedroom. So, still wanting to move the PC and reconfigure my office, I decided to put it alongside my dual G5 PowerMac and use my IOGEAR ADC KVM switch coupled with an Apple ADC to DVI Adapter to mate it and my Windows XP PC to my 20 inch Apple Cinema Display with its USB Apple Keyboard and MX500 Logitech Mouse. I could then move the PC’s computer desk out, move my drawing table closer to my workcenter, and add a badly needed bookcase.

While I was at this, I also wanted to find a way to put the PowerMac, my new iMac, and the PC on Gigabit Ethernet. The most obvious way to do that was to buy a Gigabit Ethernet switch and add it to my router. But I wanted to see if there was an affordable router that also had four 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports. I found it in the D-Link DGl-4300 Wireless Router.

At $150 or so (before rebates), the router is not exactly cheap. But the wireless end of the device supports a packet prioritization routine for games that guarantees better performance and also can be applied to other high-bandwidth hungry applications. Could it help us get better iChat performance? There was only one way to find out.

At Fry’s Electronics, I bought three ten foot lengths of Cat 5e cable and, though I had intended to buy the router at Best Buy where they had a $20 rebate, I picked it up at Fry’s to save some time. In a stroke of good fortune, when I got to the register I discovered Fry’s had a $40 rebate on the unit! Sometimes, God does smile on me.

Setting the router up at home was a snap. I simply unplugged my Belkin router and plugged in the new D-Link and then navigated its administration pages via a browser. One I got past the log-in webpage, I found an Internet Set-Up Wizard (Java-based, I suspect) that I stepped through to get my Internet connectivity back. It took a little while to get that done because I kept missing an entry letting me select my ISP (Earthlink cable); but I finally got it done. I ran some file transfer tests across both the wireless and wired legs, and I will report those in a review of the router to be posted later (in the Reviews section.) Briefly, the wireless portion of the router seemed to be slower at file transfer than my Belkin 54G router, but it did have more range and the Gigabit wired portion of the network was blazingly fast. Interestingly, Gigabit Ethernet transfers were faster between my Gigabit-equipped Macs than my D-Link Gigabit PCI card equipped XP PC and any other machine, including the Macs. I also discovered that, unlike the Belkin, the D-Link router does not pass AppleTalk over the wireless portion of the network, forcing me to reconfigure my Macs and a Hawking print server.

I’ve only done one iChat video session, but the picture was noticeably though not significantly clearer. This was a one-on-one session; if I’m lucky, I’ll get to do a 3 way video conference this weekend.

So far, I’m happy with this purchase.

Outlook 2001 Problems

Other than boxing up software for sale on eBay, my big computer thing of the week has been trying to solve problems I’m having with Outlook 2001. Since I’ve switched to my “new” iMac, it won’t run or hook up with my workplace’s Windows network. The problems started last week when I tried to log on and Outlook wouldn’t log onto my Exchange server. Last night, it morphed into telling me it couldn’t write files it needed to complete its installation. I tried fixing permissions, trashing and reinstalling Outlook, and even re-installing the OS 9 System Folder. No luck at all. It’s dead in the water.

That doesn’t mean I can’t access my workplace’s e-mail from my Mac. The place is running Outlook Webmail. But I don’t really like it because accessing my address books is not straightforward. So, it will work in a pinch, but I really want better access than what it offers.

I found one user’s fix for the “can’t write” problem a few hours ago, and I’m going to try that tonight. I also took a few minutes to check my workplace mail server’s name and found there was a subtle change that might have made it difficult for Outlook to resolve the server. So, I’ll take some time tonight to see if I can get it working.

Outlook 2001 has always been temperamental in Classic. Frankly, I’d like my iMac even better if it would boot into OS 9. But the fact it can’t is another example of forced obsolescence, something that Apple is as good at performing as Microsoft. If that were not true, not only could I boot my iMac into OS 9, but I could also repartition my hard disk and run Jaguar.

Since that’s not the case, I have to get Outlook running, live with Outlook Web Access, get another copy of Virtual PC 7 and Windows XP and run it on my iMac, or use my PC to access the network at my workplace. I’d really like to relegate my PC to being only a gamer/entertainment center, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to buy another copy of Virtual PC and Windows XP Pro when Intel based Macs may only be a few months away. So, it all hangs on whether I can get Outlook or Entourage 2004 to work, something I’ve also tried, and whether or not I get so sick of dealing with the whole thing that the cost of Virtual PC and Windows XP becomes worth it.

I tried the additional steps and manipulated various permissions in the Outlook 2001 folder and cannot sort out why Outlook can’t write some files it needs. I don’t have the time or heart to troubleshoot this any further, so I’m going to use Outlook Web Access as a substitute if I’m working from my iMac. Outlook 2001 on my PowerBook continues to work without a hitch.

(NOTE: I'm happy to report that I have Outlook 2001 up and running again. I ran Disk Utility and had it "Fix OS 9 Permissions" and then reinstalled the application. This was in conjunction with other work, i.e., cloning my entire system to a LaCie Firewire hard drive and back so I could turn off File Journaling; but I really don't think that had a bearing on getting Outlook going again.)

About Upgrading Mac Apps Now…What’s a fella to do?

I’ve been considering the issue of whether to upgrade my Adobe applications for the Mac or not. I’d love to get Photoshop CS2 and Illustrator CS2; but with all the furor during the past week over which Macs are going to get Intel CPU’s first, I’m not sure it’s something I want to do. With rumors flying that the first Intel Macs will surface at MacWorld 2006 in January and no one sure whether they will be Mac Minis or iMacs, I think it makes more sense to wait until Adobe releases CS3, or whatever it is Adobe’s going to call their next release. That package will probably contain code for both PowerPC and Intel, giving me a leg up on transitioning to Intel based Macs, if I chose to. It makes more financial sense to wait. That doesn’t mean that’s what I’m going to do. I don’t make much financial sense when it comes to computers.

But, then, the three things in life that are the most fun don’t make any financial sense, i.e., computers, airplanes, and women. (Substitute your own three un-guilty pleasures there.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Mac Mini – The first MacIntel?

Reports from a couple of online Apple rumor mills say that Apple will introduce Intel CPU’s in the Mac Mini vice an iBook or PowerBook, though either may follow quickly behind. That would be a good move, since it would allow current Mac users interested in moving to the new CPU a chance to try it out without risking a lot of cash. The same logic holds true for current Windows users looking to switch to the Mac platform; a lot of Apple hardware could be sold if prospective switchers know they can run their current Windows set-up and still play with Mac OS X.

Introducing a mini first would also allow for some idea of how Apple notebooks using the new CPU and ported operating system can be expected to perform since the mini uses notebook hard drives and video to do its work. It may not be a true harbinger since Apple would probably use a more powerful CPU in its PowerBooks than its mini’s (One would certainly hope so.), but it would be a reasonable extrapolation from there to guess how one machine versus the other would do.

Whether I’ll spring for a mini versus waiting for a PowerBook will depend on what performance reviews of the minis show, what the difference in time will be between their introductions, and how much confidence I have I’ll be able to comfortably run my applications on the machines. The more doubt I have, the more likely it is I’ll buy a mini and test it out.

Whatever I do, you can bet I’ll post the results here.

Fed Ex and the USPS Win!

As I mentioned earlier, my sister-in-law, Jan, had decided to buy in my 20 inch 1.8 GHz iMac I was selling to upgrade to a 17 inch 2.0 GHz iMac. So, I reloaded its operating system and applications and packaged it up in its original box for shipping. Jan decided she wanted us to ship it to her via the U.S. Postal Service. We have had good luck doing that from a damage standpoint but not very good luck with them delivering on time. We sent a nephew’s iBook to the same address using Priority Mail, but it didn’t arrive until almost two weeks later. Despite that, my wife decided to send Jan’s iMac via Priority Mail. Lo and behold, the iMac arrived there yesterday after being mailed out last Thursday. I’m still waiting to hear that the unit is okay; they haven’t unpacked it, yet; but the box appeared to be undamaged. I’m hoping it survived my 13 year old nephew lugging it home on foot. A 20 inch iMac is not a small or light thing. How he managed it, I don’t know. But it appears that the USPS has scored a victory!

I ordered a new iPod Nano for my wife Sunday night. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know she just got one a few weeks ago. What you don’t know is it got stolen when we stopped to look at new vehicles at a car dealership Sunday afternoon where someone broke into our car and stole her purse containing it. I ordered it Sunday night, FedEx picked it up in Shenzen China on Monday; and today, Wednesday, it’s here! The original delivery date was November 11; but it got here early and FedEx brought it on home. Contrast that to UPS. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen them let my package rot on a truck until the delivery date matched up.

Who do you want to ship your computer stuff with?

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Apple PowerBook Roadmap-No Fit For Me

I saw an article on Apple Insider stating that the 12 inch PowerBook is no longer on Apple’s roadmap. Unfortunately, that means I am not either, at least as far as PowerBooks are concerned. That’s too bad. I really like the machines.

The smallest PowerBook Apple intends to offer is the 15 incher. Ever tried to use one of those in an airplane? Frankly, they don’t fit on a seat tray; and I’m not of the mindset to cram one into my lap.

My needs for a laptop lie in two areas, i.e., work and air-travel. I use my PowerBook at work because it allows me to run OS X there, and it’s ergonomically and practically more comfortable for me. I travel by air either on the airlines (usually Southwest) or in my own aircraft. A 12 inch format is much easier to lug around or use on both aircraft. Using a 15 inch screen in either place is barely workable and is especially cumbersome if needed in the small confines of my Cheetah’s cockpit. So, a 15 inch notebook is out. I will buy a Windows powered 12 incher before hauling a 15 inch machine powered by OS X.

The story said that Apple would release a 13 inch widescreen iBook. Whether that remains a viable option depends on which CPU’s Apple puts in the machines. If it’s a dumbed down Celeron, I most likely would not bite. If it’s some kind of dual-core Pentium offering, I’ll be tempted.

Apple needs to be careful to ensure it’s not making a major marketing mistake with the move to Intel by also moving too far away from the product formats that have made it profitable. Apple can’t afford to consolidate its product line too much, or it risks losing customers to Windows simply because that platform offers more choices in specific areas the company has chosen not to compete in. Could it be that my current 1.5 GHz G4 PowerBook is my last Apple laptop?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Something New, Something Newer

I said in one of my earlier blogs I was thinking of selling my 20 inch 1.8 GHz G5 iMac in favor of a smaller but slightly faster 17 inch 2.0 GHz iMac. Well, that is coming to pass as I write this, though by a strange path I wouldn’t have predicted and don’t totally understand. But I believe things always work out for the best, and it does seem that’s happening here.

I needed to do the upgrade as cheaply as possible; so, when I saw a 17 inch refurbished 2.0 Ghz iMac on the Apple Store Online, I jumped on it. The system arrived late last week. As I pulled it out of the box, though, I noticed a small gouge in the unit’s LCD near the top of the screen and just right of center. I powered the system up but didn’t progress past the first screen; the gouge was noticeable and distracting. I wasn’t going to spend almost $1000 on a damaged machine nor was I going to spend weeks waiting for an Apple Service Center to repair it. I called Apple Care on Saturday morning, explained to them what the damage was, and stated my preference for a return and a refund. He sent me over to Post-Sales Support. The pleasant woman there told me I would receive a couple of e-mails from Apple, one containing a RMA number and the other allowing me to print a shipping label, within 48 hours.

The next day I got a bit restless and, on a whim, called the Apple Store in the Galleria and asked if they had any 17 inch 2.0 GHz iMacs in stock. I had expected him to tell me they only had one with a wireless keyboard and mouse retailing for about $1159; that’s what they had said the weekend before; but he told me they had three and they were retailing for $1099, the same price I could get one online. With my eligible discount, it would be even cheaper, so I grabbed my wife, jumped in the car, and headed up to see if what the salesman had said was true.

On the way, my sister in law called my wife on her cell phone to ask if I had sold my iMac. She wanted to buy it.

Serendipity strikes again!

New memory for my dual PowerMac G5 arrived last week, too; and to be able to expand it to 4 GB using its 8 slots, I removed two 256MB sticks. Since all my PowerMac and my iMacs use the same memory types and speeds, I put them in my 20 inch 1.8 GHz iMac and added its single 1 GB stick to my new iMac’s single 512 MB stick. So, my PowerMac now has 3 GB of RAM (with 1 GB more to be added soon), my 1.8 GHz iMac has 512 MB RAM, and my new 2.0 GHz iMac has 1.5 GB RAM. Sweet!

I’ve reloaded my sister-in-law’s iMac with its original operating system and software and have it almost ready to ship. My new iMac is sitting on my desk running Tiger, and I really like it. I got my shipping labels from Apple, and the damaged refurb is ready to go back.

It just don’t get any better than this.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Forced Obsolescence – No FCP 4 (or 4.5/ HD) on PCI-E!

If you’re a current Final Cut Pro 4 user (and that includes Final Cut HD which is a FCP 4 variant) and thinking about buying one of the new dual-core PowerMacs or even an iMac with an internal iSight, have the change ready to fork out for FCP 5 as well. FCP 4 will not run on these machines!

That somewhat startling fact is now detailed in an Apple Support document number 302667, entitled “Final Cut Pro 4.5 HD and earlier cannot be installed on a PowerMac G5 (late 2005) or an iMac G5 (iSight)”. The reason you can’t make it work is that FCP 4 looks for systems with installed AGP video. The new systems come with PCI-Express video buses, so the installation fails.

(NOTE: Is this true for Final Cut Express as well?)

That’s a stupid move on Apple’s part. I could be tempted to upgrade to just get better performance, but adding to that another $400 or more to upgrade my software can easily turn a home run into a foul ball. Someone tell me that Apple couldn’t patch the installer or patch the OS to permit FCP 4 to install on these systems.

Looks to me like Microsoft in Apple clothing.