The Computer Blog

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The CNN Report: Viruses Make Their Way to the Mac

This weekend’s CNN reports are the latest round in an assault on the Mac. Why is it happening? It’s good news, actually, because behind it is the fear of change in the status quo. The industry is now afraid…yes, AFRAID…that the Mac will begin taking market share from Windows PC makers. I dare say the fear is well founded.

Both IT departments and computer security firms exist because Windows is a product that takes massive amounts of labor to run, maintain, and secure. Mac OS X has a reputation for being simple, reliable, and secure; so you can bet that lots of folks in the industry are sweating what’s going to happen now. There are a lot of folks looking forward to it but there are more sweating it. They know little or nothing about the platform. Better to shoot the messenger than face up to the truth.

That’s not to say that the virus problem won’t grow worse. The one point of the article I agreed with was that viruses on Mac OS X will become more of a problem because of Apple’s switch to the Intel processor. I’ve said that previously in this blog. X86 platform exploits are well known; but, more importantly, it is now much easier for a hacker to test an OS X exploit than it was before. That PLUS Apple’s swelling market share will make Macs more of a target. It is only a matter of time before running anti-virus software will be as much of a mainstay on the Mac as it is on Windows. When that happens, we will see the press furor about viruses on the Mac vanish. It won’t be because it’s not news anymore; it will be because the security companies will no longer feel it necessary to make it news. Today, they’re trying to scare Mac users into buying their products; tomorrow, when you have them and they are vulnerable to a new virus just released, you can bet those companies won’t say a word until they have a patch to combat it.

Ironically, the people who have the most secure systems often tend to be those who are running older operating systems. If you have a G5 Mac in the house, it might be worthwhile to consider keeping it around. We intend to keep one here for several years not only to run software I currently own but to keep one in case the virus problem with the Mac turns out to be worse than I think it’s going to be.

Regardless, when I read headlines like the ones on CNN this weekend, I’m going to put them in perspective. From a security standpoint, there’s not a weaker operating system out there than Windows and OS X will only get stronger.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Dual Mode Logitech S530-Wireless keyboard, wired mouse

If you read my earlier blog about the Logitech S530, then you know I love the keyboard but don’t love the mouse that came with it. The mouse is a Mac version of the Logitech MX610, which I thought I would really love but don’t. I like the Logitech MX510 series mouse much better. The 610 feels too light to me and there’s something about its pointer movement that just feels a bit off. So, I decided to see if I could use a MX510 mouse with my S530 keyboard.

The obvious downside to this approach is that I would lose my last free USB 2.0 port on the iMac. I had been resisting that but wanted to get back to the 510 bad enough to be willing to give the port up. One of the USB ports is hooked into a Belkin USB 2.0 hub connected to the Mac via a switch; if I really needed to hook up something to the iMac (like a USB hard drive) I could either unplug the hub and use its port or I could insert the device into the hub. (I tested that theory by plugging in my iPod to the hub and updating it.)

The less obvious downside would be that all the 510’s buttons and functions might not be supported, but I’m happy to report the Logitech Control Center installed with the S530 did recognize the mouse, allowing me to use all its functionality. So, I’m typing this on the S530 keyboard but clicking away using my old MX510 mouse; and I’m much happier.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

How Apple Screwed Up Booting Windows By Deleting the Modem

If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know I’ve been really excited about Apple’s release of Boot Camp. I had hoped that I could eliminate my Windows XP powered PC by buying an Intel iMac. This afternoon I ran into a roadblock, i.e., capability I need that I will lose if I do that. It all has to do with Apple deleting the modem out of the Intel iMac and the MacBook Pro. One of the tasks that is still delegated to the PC is that of a fax machine. I don’t typically use it a couple of times a year; but when I need it, it’s critical.

Currently, there is no hardware solution to the problem. If you read Boot Camp’s fine print, you’ll find that one of the devices that’s not supported is Apple’s USB modem. So, there are no Windows drivers that will let XP recognize the device; and without that, my Winfax Pro software is useless. And I really like it. I’ve been using the software for years, and it still fits my needs.

When folks realized that Apple had dropped the modem from the MacBook Pro, a lot of apologists claimed that faxing using a modem was passé and there were other ways the material can get to the sender. Maybe so. But many businesses I interact with are set up to send and receive faxes and they are more comfortable with it. Plus, most of the newer technological solutions are dependent on the Net, and Internet connections do go down, not to mention that most of those solutions involve paid services. Who wants to fork out even a buck if a simple phone call costs less?

What else can I do? Well, I either have to buy a fax machine or a fax-capable all-in-one or keep my PC. Buying new hardware increases my cost to make the Intel transition, and I’m already uncertain about doing it. Keeping the PC means I can take my time with buying new machines; I mean, there’s just no advantage to doing it now. Say what you will, but the simple fact that neither the iMac nor the MacBook Pro has a modem that can be accessed by Windows does mean I’ve put the brakes on any moves toward an iMac for now.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

BOOT CAMP!

The most exciting development of the week has been Apple’s release of “Boot Camp”, a utility that allows you to run Windows XP on your Intel-powered Mac.

So much for Apple’s claims they won’t support running Windows on their Intel powered machines. (Well, they’re not going to provide tech support but even providing “Boot Camp” is farther than I expected them to go.)

This is absolutely great! To be honest, this does make me want to buy an Intel-powered Mac now. Why? Because worse case, the Adobe apps I have that won’t run well using Rosetta may run well on the Mac using Windows. I say “may” because I’m just not sure about the video driver situation. But if that runs well, then I don’t have to worry about taking hits on Photoshop’s performance.

As for how to get data from the Windows partition to the Mac partition, a small external drive, either USB or Ethernet, will solve that problem.

Of course, this does bring up the specter, fretted about by some, that most people would do what I’m proposing here, i.e., running Windows versions of the software vice buying Mac versions and thereby killing the Mac development world. And that would hold true to a degree. For instance, if my first Intel powered Mac is a MacBook Pro, then I might choose to run a Windows version of Photoshop CS2 under Windows rather than buying Photoshop CS3 (or whatever the next version for the Mac will be named). But I would not think that situation would last forever. I’d move back to a Mac and Intel native application at some point as soon as I could easily afford it. It just would not be as soon as I might otherwise have if the Windows version had not been there to fill the gap during the Intel transition.

Now, if I can talk my wife into letting me get a MacBook Pro…!

(NOTE: I just chatted with her and she gave me the “go ahead” to offer her 1.8 GHz G5 iMac and her 12 inch 1 GHz G4 PowerBook to PowerMax in trade against a 2.0 GHz MacBook Pro with a 120 GB hard drive. Assuming the trade-in values are acceptable, I probably will order the MacBook Pro. My wife would get my 2.0 GHz iMac and my 12 inch 1.5 GHz PowerBook in trade. I would move the data on my iMac to the MacBook Pro and my G5 PowerMac. I would use the G5 PM as my everyday machine but slowly transition tasks over to the MacBook Pro.

UPDATE: I did talk to my wife, and she thinks I need to go for a 20 inch iMac instead. The more I think about it, the more I like that idea. I can easily partition 50GB for XP on its 250GB hard drive and then run everything…including my flight simulators..on the iMac. This will allow me to either get rid of my PC, put it somewhere else in the house, or give it away to someone in the family.)

D-Link Gigabit Ethernet Card Failure

One of the things I still use my PC for is to scan in and archive paper documents using PaperPort software. I was doing just that this weekend when I noticed that the PC had dropped its Internet connection. Windows XP wasn’t telling me that anything was wrong, but I refreshed the connection and then got a message telling me that the PC could not be assigned an I.P. address by the router. A glance at the router revealed that its lights were flashing spasmodically. Either my router had gone bad, the network card had gone bad, or some Trojan had taken over my computer. To start eliminating things, I shut the PC down and rebooted the router, which came back normally. I then booted up my iMac which connected to the network and the Internet as expected. So, the router was looking like it might be okay. After disconnecting the PC from its Ethernet cable, I booted the PC and ran Norton Antivirus to check it but got negative results. I also ran Ad Aware and Spybot and, though they did find a few things, hooking the computer back into the network after the items had been removed did nothing to change the computer’s behavior. So, I bought a Hawking Gigabit Ethernet PCI card from Microcenter and installed that in my machine. The PC hooked up to the network normally; so, indeed, the D-Link card did appear to be the problem.

I don’t typically buy D-Link stuff because I haven’t had much luck with it. Too much of it seems to fail within short period of time, and that makes me nervous because my current router and a Gigabit Ethernet switch attached to it are both from D-Link. Hopefully, the card failure will turn out to be an isolated incident and not a precursor of what is to come. If not, then I have bought my last piece of D-Link gear.

Quick Look- Photoshop Elements 4 for Windows

I’ve been debating for a while whether I wanted to get a copy of Photoshop CS2 for my Windows XP computer or whether I would get a copy of Photoshop Elements 4.0. So, I downloaded the trail version of Photoshop Elements 4.0 from the Adobe site and gave it a quick once through.

As many reviewers have already said, for most people, Elements has more than enough of Photoshop’s power to keep one happy. Most basic Photoshop functions are there as well as some filters and special effects. As you might expect for a consumer package, the software is full of wizards and friendly helpful hints that lower the steepness of the learning curve substantially. For most people, both because of that and because of Photoshop’s steep price of entry, Photoshop Elements is indeed a better choice.

The review of this product on the Mac side (at MacWorld.com) said that Adobe Bridge had been included. Well, some of Bridge’s functionality is included but the utility that performs the task in the Windows side is named the “Photo Browser”. Unlike Bridge, the Photo Browser must go to a folder and add the photos there to its catalog before it will display them. It works like iPhoto does, i.e., photos have to be imported to the library for use. That’s clunky. Another thing I noticed about the Browser is that deleting photos from the Browser can also delete them from your hard drive if the option block for that in the window is checked. While it’s off by default, this could cause you some unexpected grief if you’re not paying attention.

After playing with this application a bit, I decided I’m going to buy a CS2 upgrade for the PC rather than Elements, even though I could save some money. I like the extra features on the full package and I like how Bridge works a lot better than I like Browser. I will buy a copy of Elements for the Mac for my wife. It’s a perfect package for her, and I’m looking forward to seeing if there are any major differences between the packages for the two platforms.