The Computer Blog

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Activation Hassles: Why I've Uninstalled Parallels

Last night, I made the decision to uninstall Parallels. I really love how the program works, especially in Coherence mode; but over the last week I’ve noticed I have to re-activate Microsoft Word 2007 every time I switch from using Parallels to using Boot Camp. While I’ve been able to re-activate Word without incident so far, I fear hitting a spot where I have no choice but to call Microsoft to beg and plead with them to gain the release of my software’s functionality. That’s something I just don’t want to do. (It makes me wish I had stayed with Office 2000.)

When I had tried Parallels a few months ago, it was the constant reactivation of both XP and Office that caused me to back off from using it. Using the latest build, it seemed like the problem had been fixed until a week or two ago when it came back. Last night, I did some tests to see if the problem was reproducible; and it was. Booting into Parallels after using Boot Camp or vice versa and then calling up Word 2007 brought up the “please activate this software with Microsoft” window each and every time Word launched. I really didn’t want to go through that every time I wanted to use Word 2007. I’d never know when or if Microsoft was going to turn me off!

I’m really a “keep it simple” kinda’ guy (as much as I can), so I decided to uninstall Parallels to keep my system configuration both stable and straightforward.
My experience suggests that if you’re a heavy Parallels user with only an occasional need to boot straight into OS X, then Parallels is a great tool for you. If you have a frequent need to boot into XP using Boot Camp and still want to run Parallels, then you’ll need to consider how much of your software uses activation methodologies to run. My Microsoft applications have demonstrated they check activation status on each launch, and a heavy Microsoft user will have the same activation hassles I did. I’m not sure about Adobe applications since the only ones I have on my Windows’ partition are trial versions that check into how much of my 30 day trial is left (though I did notice that running the Photoshop CS3 trial version under Parallels really threw off XP clocks; Photoshop was telling me my trial had expired when I still had 17 days to go!).

My experience raises a question, and it is whether activation technology is the enemy of virtualization. Microsoft’s recent statements and their allowing only the “higher” cost versions of Vista to run in a virtualized environment leads one to believe they are uncomfortable with users running their OS in those modes. If that’s true, then it’s not much of a stretch to foresee Microsoft using activation to control whether you can run their OS under virtualization. You can bet, too, that if they do it, so will many others.

The interesting thing about that is how it could pit the application companies against the software companies whose business it is to provide virtualization tools, Nova Development (the company that makes Parallels) among them. For the latter to survive, they might have to find a way to turn activation off or fool it, no doubt a direct violation of the overly broad DMCA.

Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Windows Share won’t Mount: SMB Error -50

I have a D-Link DSM-G600 Wireless external hard drive I’m connecting to using Gigabit Ethernet. Until a few nights ago, it has connected routinely with all our Macs, no matter whether we were running OS X or Windows XP. That’s when I started seeing one of two error messages when double-clicking on the drive’s icon to mount it on my MacBook Pro under OS X. If I double-clicked on the drive icon, I would get a “cannot connect; original object cannot be found” message followed by an offer to either Delete or Fix the Alias, neither of which worked. If I tried to access the drive using SMB protocol and its I.P. address under “Connect to Server”, I got a “-50 error” and the drive refused to mount.

I went to the Apple Support site and did lots of searches only to find nothing about the “-50 error” other than it was an “invalid argument”, something the Console Logs told me as well. But otherwise, I drew a blank no matter where I looked. It was a day later after my first searches when I finally got some light shed on the problem within the now unmoderated Apple Discussion groups. A discussion there about the same problem indicated that it was possibly due to the mismatch between two files in the Library that controlled the Samba protocol. To see if this was my problem, I typed the suggested two lines in Terminal:

kextstat -bcom.apple.filesystems.smbfs
/sbin/mount_smbfs –v

Indeed, this did show that one file was version 1.3.6 and the other was 1.3.7. How did I get them matched up? The better question, though, was how did I get them mismatched?

The answer was pretty obvious. The problem had not existed before I re-applied the OS 10.4.9 Combo Updater a week or so ago to recover from another problem. Apparently, when I re-applied the update, it had installed the older file. But where did the newer file come from? It had to be some update installed after the 10.4.9 update. After a little more digging, I discovered that Apple’s 2007-4 Security Update had installed the new files. So, I went to the Apple website and downloaded all that security update and a couple of others and installed them all.

The next time I tried to mount the D-Link drive, it worked!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Crash and Recovery: My First Problem with my MacBook Pro

While running my MacBook Pro with an external monitor and keyboard, I was typing a response to an e-mail Saturday night (ironically, a friend of mine had written to ask questions about OS X) when I realized that the CD Eject key on my Logitech S530 keyboard had stopped working. I tried some of the other specialty keys and they still did. Normally, I would believe I had a hardware problem (bad key); but my feelings were telling me the problem was more than likely due to software. To investigate that, I went to the Logitech website and downloaded the latest version of the S530 driver.

The download and installation proceeded without incident. At the end, the installation program asked for a reboot of the system, which I approved. The reboot appeared to be proceeding normally at first: up came the grey screen, the slightly darker grey Apple logo, and the little twirling wagon wheel that shows hard disk access is occurring. And that’s where it stopped, with the wagon wheel twirling its little heart out.

Something had corrupted part of the boot record or files when the driver had been written to disk.

Now, I don’t keep much data on my MacBook’s internal hard disk. There’s usually just the projects I am immediately working on. Still, I didn't want to lose any of that, even if the impacts were small. More importantly, I did not want to go through all the aggravation of calling Adobe on the phone to activate a new installation of CS3 products installed only a week ago. So, I wanted to recover this hard disk without having to reinstall the whole thing. I had been backing up the MBP's hard drive with external drive that also included almost all the other data and pictures and music I had. To pair it down to applications alone would mean I had to move all the rest of it to some other safe haven, a process that would take several hours. It didn't take me long to realize that type of setup really wasn’t serving me as well as I had thought it would. But, now, it was too late...

I hooked the MacBook Pro up to the external hard disk I usually run from and booted up on it. Using its copy of Disk Utility, I ran the “Repair Disk” utility against the MacBook Pro’s internal hard disk. Sure enough, Repair Disk reported a volume header had been corrupted and then repaired it. To be safe, I also had Disk Utility repair permissions on the volume. Then, I rebooted, allowing the MBP to go back to its internal hard disk.

All I saw was grey screen. Oh, nooooo! A reinstallation of the operating system was now looking like a probability. But what if instead of installing the whole thing, I tried first to reinstall just the version update? I decided to give that try, hoping it would restore whatever boot file had been corrupted.

So, I booted the MacBook Pro back up on its external hard disk again, went to the Apple website and downloaded the OS 10.4.9 combo updater, and double-clicked on the file to launch its expansion and installation. When the installation asked me which hard disk to install to (it showed me both the external hard disk and the internal hard disk as options), I selected the internal hard disk. I watched the installer write its files to that disk, optimize them, and report the software installation was completed. I told the MBP to restart, and this time allowed it to boot up on its own internal hard disk.

Success!

I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see the machine boot into its normal desktop with all the data files I had been working on and all the Adobe applications still working. I checked the S530's CD Eject key function by inserting a CD and then hitting the key, and it worked as expected.

Before doing anything else, I ventured back into my storage closet and pulled out the external Firewire hard drives I used to backup all our systems to inventory them. I hadn’t looked at how I had assigned them since I had bought the Mac Pro. I use one of the Mac Pro's internal drives as a backup drive (clone) to the boot drive. I don’t need an external drive to back it up except for some data stored on its two-drive RAID 1 set. Anyway, I had enough storage available to back up everything but the external Firewire hard drive I use with the MBP, and ninety-five percent of its data is on the Mac Pro, which is the machine I consider my “master” desktop. Using a 120GB Maxtor hard drive in a third party Firewire 400 case, I backed up the MacBook Pro's internal hard disk and then went around the house using the other hard disks to backup my wife’s Intel iMac and her black MacBook.

The whole episode demonstrated the value of not only having backup external hard drives but the blessed Mac capability of being able to boot and run normally from them. My experience on Windows XP suggests if the kind of corruption I had experienced on the MBP had occurred on my XP partition, I’d still be reinstalling XP and everything else in it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Working with Parallels

After weeks of thinking about it, I bought a copy of Parallels and installed it on my MacBook Pro. The store copy was build 3160 and did not feature the option to run using Boot camp. The newest build is 3188 and does have it, so I downloaded it and installed it as an upgrade to my “current” version. Even so, I still had to re-enter the key code that came with the store-bought version to get the thing to activate.

When I launched XP using Parallels, it told me I needed to activate. However, even though Parallels was configured for Shared Networking, it could not find a network connection that worked. I followed the troubleshooting steps listed at the Parallel’s website using both Bridged and Host-Only Networking and using both Airport and Gigabit Ethernet, but nothing worked. On a hunch, I completely uninstalled Parallels and installed only the 3188 build I had downloaded, and XP saw the network using Shared Networking the first time it launched. It activated and quit shutting down, though by then I had been reminded multiple times about why I hated working with Windows.

I tried selecting Coherence mode, but clicking on its button did nothing. Figuring that XP played a role in configuring for Coherence mode, I clicked on the “Install Parallels Tools” menu item, and it did just that. The next time I selected Coherence mode, it worked. I have to say it is my favorite way of working with XP under OS X.

I run my OS X Dock as a vertical strip on the right side of my screen and that fits perfectly with Coherence mode since it places the XP Start menu and the toolbar at the bottom of my Desktop window. This enables me to select either OS X or Windows XP applications with just a mouse click or two, especially since I keep my Application folder located just above the Trash Can in the lower part of my Dock. Since I have Office 2007 (for Windows) on XP’s Quick Launch Toolbar, I can click on the Word 2007 icon and it magically launches onto my Desktop, just like I was working in XP alone. I can tell there is a minor speed hit for working with Word this way, but it’s no slower than working in Office 2004 is under Rosetta. The only hang-up I’ve seen so far is that Norton Anti-Virus is squawking at me that it has a license problem when Word tries to use it to do a virus scan. More licensing/activation crap!

Overall, Coherence mode is really great because I have some applications that are Windows only and work fine in Parallels. I now have the capability of calling them up, working with them, saving their products back to my Mac Desktop, and then opening those files in a Mac app and continuing to work with them. (Though it took me a while to understand that the way to access my Mac desktop and all my other Mac files is by setting up Parallels Shared Folders and putting a shortcut to them on the Windows Desktop.)

The only drawback to Parallels is its single machine license, which means I’ll have to buy a second copy to run on my Mac Pro. I understand they’re holding to the same line as the operating system manufacturers, but I still think that allowing a second installation on a home or notebook computer is not out of line. That said, the newer builds of Parallels are definitely worth the money; you really do get all the best out of both the Windows and Mac worlds by having a copy on your machine.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Coming to a Store Near Us

This weekend in my little computer world has been driven by the birth and death of two stores. The CompUSA store near Interstate 45 in Webster is in its final days while the Apple Store in Friendswood’s Baybrook Mall is in its firsts. Connie and I participated in both of them.

We went out to dinner at the Red Lobster on Friday night which happens to be across the street from the strip mall where the CompUSA store is. There’s a Barnes and Nobles there, too, and I wanted to pick up Slaughterhouse Five by one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut. I had read some of this later works but hadn’t read one of his first. In honor of the man, I had decided to rectify that oversight.

Frankly, I had thought the CompUSA store had already closed but men carrying street signs told me otherwise. The signs were saying that most things were 60% to 80% off. Having been in the store weeks before, I didn’t thin there would be anything of interest and frankly doubted if the deals really were that good. But Connie felt we needed to take a look, and so I went along with her to do just that.

The store was fairly empty, but there were still some items up on the shelves. iPod accessories, networking equipment, some phones, cables and adapters, one 23 inch Apple Cinema Display, a few printers, and some video games were mostly what was left. E found our pot of gold, though, in a locked glass cabinet of Apple hardware and software marked 70% off.

When we first saw the case, there were two ADC to DVI Adapters, a small box that said it was a Bluetooth upgrade for a Mac Pro, a stack of iLife 06 boxes, several .Mac family packs, a couple of iWork 06 packages, one package of Virtual PC, two packages of Microsoft Word, a couple of power adapters, and about five Apple Remotes.

I picked up the Bluetooth upgrade for a Mac Pro for a little over eleven bucks. Connie picked up a .Mac family pack, normally costing $179.99, for a little under $54. We saw the manager and asked him if he had anything else, and he said he did in a back room. He led us back there where he showed us a copy of Photoshop CS2 upgrade, several small boxes that had been marked by hand that they were a combined Airport Extreme and Bluetooth upgrades for a Mac Pro, and a couple of Filemaker Pro 8.5 upgrade packages. The manager told us he wanted to sell everything he could. I picked up one of the combo Airport and Bluetooth upgrades and returned the solo Bluetooth upgrade to the cabinet. Connie and I talked about picking up the 23 inch Apple Display because it was priced at only $500, but that was still too big a risk to take without any way to drive the thing to check it out.

At home that evening, we talked about what was left as I sent out an e-mail to the rest of the Mac-totin’ family about what deals might still be available.

That night I discovered that the combined Airport Extreme and Bluetooth upgrade that was supposed to be for a Mac Pro was really for a Mac mini. Well, while the prices at the closeout sale are great, all sales are final. After Connie and I talked about it, we decided the best thing to do was just to sell the package on eBay later.

On Saturday morning, our attention shifted to the opening of the Apple Store in Baybrook Mall a couple of miles from our house. To celebrate the grand opening, Apple was giving away a prize pack that included a MacBook and a 4 GB iPod Shuffle. We hoped to win the MacBook for my stepson Tim and also wanted to make sure we both got one of the black T-shirts they were giving away to the first 1000 customers who entered the store. We arrived at the mall about a half hour before the store’s opening to find at least a hundred people in front of us, some of them wearing t-shirts from other Apple Store Openings in the area.

About fifteen minutes after we got there, some of the store’s sales crew ran alongside the crowd, screaming a joyous “welcome” and “high-fiving” every one who would. And as they continued to try to induce the reserved crowd to start clapping, the line continued to grow until it had almost wrapped its way into Macy’s at the southern end of the mall.

When the doors opened, people began streaming in to a store lined with Apple salespeople in black t-shirts. They held their hands-out for the customers to “high-five” them as they entered. Few seemed committed, but I figured “what the hell” and hit everyone of them on my side of the store.

The size of the store surprised us a bit. It is at least a third bigger than the store at the Galleria with a larger selection of machines to go “hands-on” with, including iPods and one Apple TV. Software is more logically organized right together near the back of the store as are external storage devices, backpacks and cases, and the Genius Bar is at the very rear of the store, facing forward. We’re happy it’s here; our need to drive to the Galleria to visit an Apple Store is now all but gone. It’s bit late in our buying cycle, though; we’ve pretty well bought all the machines except for Apple TV we’re likely to for several if not many years.

The music in the store was really up, and that and the rest of the general commotion in the store made me want to leave after only a few minutes. (A friend of mine who is considering buying a Mac for the first time tried to talk to a salesman a little later in the day couldn’t hear very well. I think the “noise level” was up a bit too much.)

But, in general, it all was pretty neat and it attracted a lot more people than I thought it would. I was surprised to see another friend of mine who is considering buying a MacBook in the line to get in the store.

Connie and I both got our black t-shirts.

The real test comes now when we see how many Macs the store can actually sell. The crowd at NASA is fairly PC-centric, even though the Space Center itself has a Mac User Group and there are Macs on site.

Later that afternoon, I returned to CompUSA and, after talking on my cell with my stepson to see if he needed anything, I picked up a spare power adapter for my MacBook Pro for $34 and one for my wife about the same amount of money and picked up separate Airport Extreme and Bluetooth upgrades for my Mac Pro for $12 for the Bluetooth and about $20 for the Airport. (While I could mount these in the Mac Pro myself, I’m going to talk to a nearby Apple Service Center about putting them in for me to preserve the warranty.)

By the time I get this posted, the CompUSA store here will be on its last day. There are still a few CompUSA stores in Houston, but they are so far away that the odds of me buying anything from them are not very good. That’s especially true now with a Fry’s and an Apple Store just down the road.

I’ve got a couple of pictures of the Friendswood store’s opening I took with my wife’s camera. I’ll post them here as soon as I can get her to get rid of the other 167 pictures she’s got on her camera.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Not Quite as Planned

Memory upgrades I ordered from Other World Computing arrived the night before last (along with the Adobe software upgrades from Apple), so I wedged in hardware system upgrades along with the new software upgrades. The first thing I replaced was one of the 1GB DIMM's in my MacBook Pro, substituting for it a 2 GB DIMM that raised the internal memory up to its 3 GB maximum. The consisted of removing the MBP's battery, using a Phillips #00 screwdriver to remove the memory bank cover, then popping out the old DIMM and replacing it with the new and bigger one. Then, I took the 1 GB DIMM I had just removed and took it over to my wife's iMac, an Intel-powered Core Duo model that uses the same type memory. After disconnecting the unit and placing it face down on a towel, I opened the small door on the iMac's bottom and used the small levers underneath it to pop out the machine's DIMM's. I replaced a 512MB DIMM with the 1GB DIMM out of the MBP and then buttoned the iMac up. Then, I moved on to my wife's MacBook and replaced a 256MB DIMM with the 512 MB DIMM I had just pulled out of the iMac. Now, that's what I call getting the most bang for the buck, i.e., getting to upgrade the RAM in three machines for the price of one!

I also upgraded the memory in my Mac Pro, replacing two 512 MB fully buffered DIMM's with two 1 GB DIMM's. My initial plan had been to then apply to Other World Computing for their memory rebate, which for the two 512MB DIMM's would have amounted to $75. Well, that was last week. When I checked last night, the rebate amount had dropped to $65. The ten dollar drop was just enough to cause me to rethink my plan. I was comfortable taking half the cost of a new set as a rebate but the drop to 43% of their value was more than I wanted to bear. Instead of sending the extra DIMM's back, I reloaded them into the machine. That placed the overall memory amount at 5 GB and left me with two slots in the bottom riser card to fill. Because of the high cost of the fully-buffered memory the Mac Pro uses, I figured I was much more likely to spend $150 to add two 512 DIMM's and top it off at 6 GB rather than send the DIMM's in and spend than $438 to take it up to 8 GB. (I like round, even numbers.)

My wife hasn't ordered Flash CS3 yet, so I haven't had an opportunity to look at it. Microsoft's introduction of Silvernet has made me wonder if we might want to hold off, but I have decided we need to press ahead. Flash is already established on the web and its cross-platform capability is a given. I'll watch what happens with Silvernet with interest, but it's too early for me to consider putting anything but Flash on my website.

I've been thinking about asking her to order Dreamweaver CS3, too, so I can take a look at it and decide whether or not to use it instead of GoLive 9 to update and maintain my website. But money is a bit tight at the moment, so it's unlikely that I'll ask her to do that anytime soon. A better idea is to wait a few more weeks and download the Adobe CS3 trial software. We might even do the same thing with Flash.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Adobe CS3 First Impressions

Upgrade versions of Adobe Photoshop Extended CS3, Adobe Illustrator CS3, and Adobe In Design CS3 for the Mac arrived via FedEx yesterday. Due to the time it takes to install the packages and perform other upgrade associated reconfigurations with my two systems, I haven’t had time to do much more than take a cursory look at the applications. Overall, though, I’m pleased with the changes I’m seeing. I’ll let you know if that changes as I start doing both training and real work with them.

The first thing I noticed, of course, was the increased speed, mainly via the reduction in boot up times and the snappiness when working with old files. I pulled some photos into Photoshop and a multi-page booklet style document into In Design, and it was easy to tell I was now working with “native” software. I intend to run the Retouch Artists’ Photoshop Speed test in the next few days, and I’ll post the results as well as comparison data using CS2 and the CS3 beta here.

I did take the time to verify that Adobe had fixed the cursor bug that had consistently caused me to ditch the beta software; and, as I was expecting, they had. Selecting a tool that uses a round cursor (i.e., clone tool, any brush, etc.) to show you the affected area before you apply an effect works as expected. I don’t know what that took to fix, but I couldn’t understand how such a publicized problem could escape being fixed for the second beta release. At least, it is fixed in the final version. If it hadn’t been, I would have stayed on CS2 and pressed Adobe to give my money back.

The only glitch I ran into was during installation. Photoshop CS3 refused to install because it thought I was still running the CS3 beta. I had downloaded a “clean-up” script from Adobe; so, I cranked it up. It brought up the Terminal; and after informing me of the dangers I would be taking, it asked me if I wanted a Level 1 or 2 clean-up. I opted for the Level 1, and that proved to be all I needed.
The upgrade then ran its installer, only asking me for the CS3 installation key in the process, even though I had already removed PS CS2 from the hard disk. I believe these upgrade installers search for proof of prior versions somewhere in the operating system files at a level that seems to bypass the customary supplying of the previous version CD or key number routinely seen in any of the earlier versions. That, or Adobe isn’t asking for it anymore, something that would be welcome but is highly unlikely. (After all, they’ve already shown they don’t trust us by making us activate the software. Maybe that’s enough for them, but I doubt it.)

The feature I like the most (so far) is what I’m going to call the “pallet docks” at the right side of the screen. A vertical bar with icon and text descriptions awaits a click to reveal the appropriate pallet, which with another click disappears into the vertical bar. It really does save space and provides a convenient way to get to individual pallets without having to resort to the menu bar. I can see how it might also become a bit of pain; whether it does will have to remain a topic of conversation for later after I use the application for a while.

These three applications cost me $778 (with tax and shipping). Right now, it appears to me they just might be worth the cash, something I can comment more on as I delve into the “extended” feature set of Photoshop CS3 Extended and the new features in Illustrator and In Design.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Upgrades Gone Wild!

After weeks of pulling my hair our trying to figure out the best route to take with Adobe upgrades, I finally ordered individual upgrades of Photoshop (CS3 Extended.), Illustrator, and In Design. I’m still waiting for Adobe to release an upgrade to Go Live; when they do, I will order it, too. I ordered the packages from Apple at a slight discount; together and with shipping and taxes, they totaled up to $803. By the time I spend my expected $199 for the Go Live upgrade, I will have spent right at $1000.

My wife wanted us to get Flash and she can buy it at the educator’s discount, so I am expecting her to pick that up for us next week. Even though she’s getting Flash CS3 Pro at about half the cost of retail, when you add that to what I’ve already spent, then I saved only about $260 over buying the all-in-one “Creative Suite Upsell” I qualified for. If you’re not familiar with the “Upsell” package, it’s the one Adobe sells you when you already own Photoshop, In Design, or Illustrator. I happen to own all three, but I only get a $200 price reduction just the same. In Adobe’s mind, customer loyalty doesn’t count for much. Like a lot of Adobe users, I feel I deserved more of break than that. But que’ sera! At least, Adobe hasn’t wrapped up all their “professional” line of software in a suite like Apple has (i.e., Final Cut Studio and Final Cut Studio 2).

While I was shopping, I also ordered 2GB of Ram for my Mac Pro for $219 from Other World Computing. I hope to recover $75 of that by sending them the two 512MB sticks I’ve got. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, by doing this I slightly increase the Mac Pro’s upgrade potential by filling two memory slots with 1 GB sticks instead of 512’s and even pay a few bucks less than I would have had I ordered a single 1GB (two 512 DIMM’s) alone.

I also noticed that OWC had a 2GB stick that would work in my MacBook Pro (MBP) for only $192. While I hadn’t planned on doing that, it would max out the RAM in my MBP which currently holds two 1 GB DIMM’s. Since my MBP and my wife’s Intel Core Duo iMac use the same memory types, I’m going to take the spare 1 GB DIMM from the MBP and pop that into my wife’s iMac, maxing out the amount of memory it can hold at 2 GB. I also will trickle down a 512MB DIMM from my wife’s iMac into her black MacBook, giving her a slight increase in RAM from 1.25 to 1.5 GB.
Of course, if I was really took “upgrades gone wild” to the extreme I would have bought a 30 inch Apple Cinema Display and replaced my Mac Pro’s Nvidia GeForce 7300 video card with an ATI X1900. But the reason I backed off buying an entire Adobe Creative Suite (which I almost did when standing in the Galleria Apple Store but they didn’t have the software in stock) was because I was trying to keep the credit cards from swelling too much. Just this much will not only keep me busy for a while but will give me more to blog about. And I can always use help with that.