Category Archives: Apple

The new Apple Mac mini makes even less sense

In the past we’ve noted Apple’s insane pricing for their (claimed) entry level Apple PC, the Mac mini. With the latest model released in the past couple of weeks, Apple adds another key reason to avoid the Mac mini, in the continued pointless eroding of customer-replaceable parts. In a rather detailed review from Ars Technica, special mention is made of Apple now sealing off easy access to the device’s innards and the hard-soldering of system memory to its motherboard:

“Older Minis had a round plastic cap on the bottom. Twisting it off would give easy access to the computer’s two RAM slots, and enterprising techies with a screwdriver and a little know-how could lift out the rest of the parts and perform further upgrades… The 2014 Mini still has the plastic hatch on the bottom, but it no longer twists off… now instead of seeing the Mini’s guts you see yet another metal shield, held in place with Torx Security screws. Remove that shield, and after you pull the entire motherboard out and flip it over you’ll finally see that the new Mac Mini’s RAM is soldered directly to the motherboard. It’s no longer user-upgradeable, so make sure you order all the RAM you need when you buy the computer in the first place.”

This continues the generally anti-consumer trend Apple has firmly established in their other products (iPhones, MacBook Pros, et al). The removal of easy access to customer-upgradeable parts is especially relevant to small businesses: unless your organisation is flush with cash, can afford to replace computers outright or can tolerate multi-week outages while your faulty Mac mini is sitting at an Apple service centre, there is little reason to consider the mini in its present incarnation.

If you’re not bound to Apple OS X for any mission-critical applications, then the Intel NUC running Ubuntu makes a more attractive proposition at an even more compact size – which we’ll be covering in a future post or two:

Intel NUC compared to Apple Mac mini

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Configure Apple Mail 4.6 with Gmail

Updated 12th March 2016: For folks landing here via search engines and the like, I recommend ditching Gmail as a mail service altogether – as I now have. The hoops one has to jump through to simply get Gmail to behave normally with an external mail client are no longer worth the effort in light of the better business email hosting services now available. FastMail in particular is a cinch to set up, is stable and affordable, and just simply works with minimal setup on the Thunderbird side. Google clearly has zero interest or business reason to permit Gmail to work seamlessly with external clients, especially as it removes the vector for targeted advertising.


This is a brief guide describing how to quickly configure Apple Mail with Gmail over IMAP. This is pertaining to an old release of Mac OS, specifically OS 10.6.8, which is running Apple Mail 4.6. I am documenting this for the benefit of readers stuck on Mac OS 10.6 and who have been saddled with Apple Mail in lieu of a vastly superior, free, openly-developed mail client such as Thunderbird. Note that the procedure documented here may differ in later releases of Mac OS.

Note that IMAP must be first enabled in the Gmail account in question. Be sure to disable the labels you do not wish to access as folders in Apple Mail (especially the “All Mail” folder) as documented here.

The Gmail account can be created in Apple Mail using the add account wizard (or first-run setup procedure), which will attempt to obtain the correct server settings (incoming and outgoing servers, username) automatically. Note that if using an “@gmail.com” address the correct server settings will be retrieved correctly. However, if using a Google Apps Gmail account with a custom domain name (e.g. “@mycompany.co.nz”), the server and username settings will need to be configured manually (according to the Google documentation for IMAP client connections).

Once the account is added we need to perform some additional steps.

By default, Apple will use separate local folders (called “mailboxes” in Apple Mail-speak for some bizarre reason) for the account Sent and Trash folders. We need to map the Gmail “Sent Mail” and “Bin” IMAP folders to these local folders, so that when email is sent or deleted in Apple Mail it will be updated in the server-side Gmail “Sent Mail” and “Bin” folders, respectively.

To do this, first select the relevant Gmail folder, and then go to “Mailbox -> Use This Mailbox For”. In this example we are mapping the Gmail “Sent Mail” folder to be used for Apple Mail sent items. The “Sent” folder visible at the top-left of the folder listing in Apple Mail will then contain and be sycnchronised with our Gmail “Sent Mail” folder:

Apple Mail IMAP folder mapping

Perform the same for mapping the Apple Mail “Trash” folder to the Gmail “Bin” folder. Once done, test that sent mail and deleted items are synchronised both ways between Apple Mail and Gmail (use the Gmail web interface to verify this). If these steps are missed or misconfigured, you will end up with local mail stores in Apple Mail for sent and deleted items (this is totally undesirable for reasons of backup, amongst other things).

Note that counter to the official Google documentation (and what we would configure in Thunderbird for example), with the above folder mapping configuration in place we have to configure Apple Mail to store sent items on the server. Mail sent out through Google’s SMTP servers is normally copied into the “Sent Items” folder anyway regardless of the client settings, but in Apple Mail this has to be enabled explicitly (as disabling it also disables the folder mapping performed above):

Settings in Apple Mail for sent items.

Finally, in Apple Mail we disable the built-in Junk email filter (as spam filtering is performed automatically in Gmail):

Settings in Apple Mail for junk email.

Apple Mail should now be configured successfully for basic interoperability with Gmail.

Creating a GlassFish service on Mac OS X

Quick post – when installing GlassFish 3.1.2.2 on Mac OS X (10.8.3 in my case) a GlassFish service won’t be created by the GlassFish installer (whereas Windows and Solaris platforms do get the ability to manage GlassFish as a service).

I came across a handy blog post by a former Sun Microsystems staffer which takes us most of the way there:

http://lowbittest.wordpress.com/2007/11/06/running-glassfish-on-mac-os-x-using-launchd/

The original blog entry was pertaining to Mac OS 10.4 but applies to 10.8 with one exception (in my case). When attempting to load the service the GlassFish process would immediately be killed by launchd. This is alluded to in the blog comments above.

The solution can be found at https://discussions.apple.com/thread/1744853?start=0&tstart=0 and consists of adding the following entry to your GlassFish plist file:

<key>AbandonProcessGroup</key>
<true/>

 

My quick procedure for creating a GlassFish service based on the above information follows. Note that I am not covering the details of how services are created and managed for Mac OS, so this is basically to get up and running quickly.

1) Create a plist file

Simlar to Solaris SMF, the plist file is an XML service descriptor file. These are the contents of my file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN"
"http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">
<dict>
<key>Label</key>
<string>com.sun.glassfish</string>
<key>Disabled</key>
<false/>
<key>UserName</key>
<string>davek</string>
<key>GroupName</key>
<string>staff</string>
<key>ProgramArguments</key>
<array>
<string>/Users/davek/glassfish3/bin/asadmin</string>
<string>start-domain</string>
<string>domain1</string>
</array>
<key>RunAtLoad</key>
<true/>
<key>AbandonProcessGroup</key>
<true/>
</dict>
</plist>

Replace the UserName and GroupName values with the user and group you wish to launch GlassFish as. Also, GlassFish in my case has been installed to /Users/davek/glassfish3 – alter this path in your plist file accordingly.

Save the file for example as GlassFish.plist and copy it to /Library/LaunchDaemons.

 

2) Set ownership on the GlassFish domain

We are running the GlassFish service as davek:staff so be sure to change ownership on the relevant GlassFish domain (domain1 in this example) to match.

 

3) Import the service

Run the following command:

sudo launchctl load /Library/LaunchDaemons/GlassFish.plist

The service starts automatically after importing, so you should be able to browse to the administrative interface for the domain. If you reboot the system, the domain should also start on boot automatically.

Mac OS X killed the Linux desktop? I must have missed the memo (and so did Google)…

Bizarre little opinion piece by Miguel de Icaza proclaiming the death of the Linux desktop. A little excerpt:

True story.

The hard disk that hosted my /home directory on my Linux machine failed so I had to replace it with a new one. Since this machine lives under my desk, I had to unplug all the cables, get it out, swap the hard drives and plug everything back again.

Pretty standard stuff. Plug AC, plug keyboard, plug mouse but when I got to the speakers cable, I just skipped it.

Why bother setting up the audio?

It will likely break again and will force me to go on a hunting expedition to find out more than I ever wanted to know about the new audio system and the driver technology we are using….”

Here’s my true story. I have a number of Ubuntu Linux desktops, and all are a joy to use. Ubuntu Linux has been fast and stable. The Unity interface is quite lovely (after some initial reservations). Software package installation is incredibly slick (and has been for years), and I couldn’t be happier with the quality of desktop applications. And I’ve never had a problem with audio support either for that matter. I switched from Mac OS late in 2007, partly because the money I was paying for the privilege wasn’t delivering in the areas where Ubuntu excels – and its ties to proprietary hardware (or beyond proprietary as Scott McNealy would say) generally make it a proposition for the well moneyed.

I’ve maintained hundreds and hundreds of desktop Windows and Mac OS computers in my time, so I’ve got a fairly good handle on the pros and cons of each, especially with regard to stability and ease of use. Is Ubuntu a superior desktop OS to Windows? No question. Even if Microsoft were to drop the price of Windows to zero (as if) it would still be an average product. Is Ubuntu comparable to Mac OS X, for common productivity and entertainment activities? Absolutely, especially in its current LTS incarnation.

So: I’m not sure where I’m going wrong, but Ubuntu has been nothing short of a fantastic desktop OS for me. The irony is that I don’t use it on the server, preferring Illumos/OpenIndiana due to a number of compelling advantages from its OpenSolaris roots. Why does the author feel the need to make negative comparisons to Mac OS? Why even bring up the old bugbear of Linux on the desktop at all?

I think I hear an axe being ground.

Incidentally, Google apparently didn’t get the author’s memo either…

http://www.zdnet.com/the-truth-about-goobuntu-googles-in-house-desktop-ubuntu-linux-7000003462/

Microsoft Surface – the short version

There are many words I could waste on the newly announced Microsoft Surface tablet, reflective of the company’s obsession with Apple Inc, and their increasingly obvious hail mary approach to staying relevant amongst mobile users – a market that I believe has well and truly left Microsoft behind. However, my feelings on it are perhaps best summarized by this:

Twitter search for vapourtrails hashtag

Yes, despite the inane statements and claims originating from certain (somewhat clueless) Microsoft staffers, the thing is vapourware, pure and simple.

If I had one piece of advice to give Microsoft collectively at this point, it would be – to paraphrase Gordon Ramsay – if you’re going to do this, then shut the fuck up and do it. Keeping customers in the dark about price, dates, or if it will even run half-decently at all can only translate to huge amounts of egg on face if or when it doesn’t match their expectations.

If anything, this is the one area they could do with aping Apple a bit more closely…

Apple Mail craps pants when trying to send huge attachments via Gmail

As in, it tends to break rather badly. In short, the solution here worked for me on Apple Mail 5.2:

http://jjmarcus.com/blog/2011/03/fixing-apple-mail-after-youve-tried-accidentally-to-send-a-giant-attachment/

Many thanks to the above poster.

Edit: fixed the link.

Apple MobileMe Mail sucked, and now iCloud does as well

Well, I guess it was too much to expect:

iCloud Mail sucks

iCloud Mail is sucky sucky sucky

Endless intermittent errors, a dog-slow web interface that takes an absolute age to start up, and stupid-long wait times just to see the contents of a mail folder. Garbage.

At least the price is right now (i.e. free)…

Apple MobileMe Mail is a steaming pile of dung

While the Apple faithful await the roll-out of the supposedly new and improved iCloud service, let’s not forget the colossal and hopefully soon-to-be-forgotten joke that has been MobileMe, in particular, MobileMe mail.

I signed up to MobileMe when it was known as .Mac, back in the heady days of being primarily a Mac user (before the dark times, before the Empire). Having a Mac mail account along with calendaring, online storage, chat and web pages seemed like a fairly nice deal, even if it did cost 120 bucks local.

Over time however, the only component of MobileMe I’ve really come to use regularly has been iDisk, and even that I access from Gnome on OpenIndiana (iDisk Finder integration with Mac OS itself being hopelessly slow and unstable). I’ve tried to buy in to the whole “email as web app” experience, but if MobileMe is anything to go by it’s just not ready for prime time. Let’s reflect on some salient points here.

Firing up MobileMe on Firefox 5 it’s entirely usual to have the GUI sitting there grinding its gears just to bring up your inbox view:

MobileMe loading

Even once it’s up and running, beware of clicking on an email item to actually read it as you might have to wait for the item itself to load:

MobileMe more loading

MobileMe often falls over at the first hurdle:

MobileMe is unavailable

And of course, everyone just loves the service failing hard right when you want to load that critical email, or even worse, send the one you have just written without any way to save it other than to manually copy its contents to the clipboard:

MobileMe error loading message

So there you have it: a paid service with worse-than-free performance (and calendaring by the way is useless for me as it hardly talks to anything else).

Browse a Time Capsule disk image in the Mac OS Finder

A friend of mine recently acquired an Apple Time Capsule to perform automated wireless backups to using Time Machine from a couple of SOHO Macs. The Time Capsule soon proved its worth when one of the machines went belly-up – we were reasonably secure in the knowledge that the Time Machine/Time Capsule combo had been doing the job of backing data up, but we needed urgent immediate access to certain files on the dead machine’s backup disk image on the Time Capsule itself.

After a bit of looking around, I found a post by a helpful member on Apple’s own support forums with instructions for mounting a Time Capsule disk image in the Finder. It works a treat.

The post may be found here, and the quick version pertaining to a Time Capsule is recreated below. Full credit for this goes to the poster “yschutzer” on the Apple Support forums.

1) Disable Time Machine.

2) Connect to the Time Capsule using the Finder, and locate the relevant .sparsebundle file. The file(s) in question will be named after the machine(s) from which Time Machine was backing up from. Don’t double-click the file itself.

3) Open a Terminal window.

4) Type hdiutil attach -noverify and leave a trailing space: do not press Enter.

5) In the Finder, drag and drop the relevant .sparsebundle file to the Terminal window, which will then automatically fill in its full pathname, for example:

hdiutil attach -noverify /Volumes/Data-1/MyMiniMac_0023e2a145fc.sparsebundle

Hit Enter, and the disk image should then mount in the Finder. Files in the disk image may be browsed and copied. Once done, unmount the disk image in the usual manner, and enable Time Machine.

The only problem I had with this was the Terminal returning “resource temporarily unavailable” errors when attempting to mount the disk image. In short, restarting the Time Capsule resolved this.

 

Cisco WRVS4400N – first impressions and Mac OS VPN support

As I mentioned here, I’m spending some time evaluating this wireless security router for use in a small office environment.

So far, I’ve had no complaints about the basic operation and build quality of the device. It’s stable, and has a well-built (albeit all-plastic) feel to it. Its web admin BUI is also very nice – a definite cut above what you’d otherwise expect at the price point:

WRVS4400N Admin BUI

Amongst all the other goodies it’s loaded with (gigabit Ethernet networking, intrusion protection, selective site blocking), it also features built-in VPN, a potentially very useful feature for easy remote connectivity back to the office. This works in conjunction with Cisco’s QuickVPN software (freely downloadable from their website).

Setup of this was super-easy. One simply adds a VPN client account in the router BUI, and exports the router certificate for client use. That’s it as far as router setup goes – everything else is handled by the router firmware. Getting up and running with VPN really only takes about thirty seconds.

Installing and configuring QuickVPN on a laptop running Windows 7 Enterprise 64bit was equally straightforward. After saving the exported router client certificate into the QuickVPN installation directory (you will not be able to establish a connection otherwise), I was able to securely connect to and browse the remote network.

QuickVPN running on Windows 7

 

The WRVS4400N, QuickVPN, and Mac OS X

So far, so great – so what’s the catch? Well, here it is, and it’s completely stupid: QuickVPN is only available on Windows platforms. Seriously Cisco, what the hell? I can understand this attitude circa 2001, but in 2011 this just doesn’t make any sense. I don’t use Mac OS as my primary platform and the products, while beautifully designed, are a control freak’s wet dream…but last time I looked Mac OS was a very, very popular platform especially in the creative industries where I’m sure a lot of small businesses operate. So, for Cisco to release a small business router where a substantial group of customers are cut out of (easily) using one of the router’s key selling features is just daft.

The silver lining to this is that there is a way to connect to the WRVS4400N’s VPN facility, and although it is not as convenient as using QuickVPN, at least it works. For this, I’ll refer you to the following document on Cisco’s support forums, posted by a very helpful community member. It uses the freely available IPSecuritas application, and I can confirm that once an IPSec VPN tunnel has been configured in the router, the procedure documented below does indeed work (as tested on a Mac OS Snow Leopard system):

https://supportforums.cisco.com/docs/DOC-10266

Fortunately, this somewhat salvages what would otherwise be a poor choice for a Mac OS or mixed platform small business, but really Cisco, just release a version of QuickVPN for Mac OS!

 

Otherwise, on both Windows and Mac OS platforms VPN worked great, but with one slight oddity: attempting to use the router’s admin BUI over VPN would result in the connection hanging, requiring a manual disconnection and relaunch of the VPN client software. Browsing the router’s admin pages was fine, but if a setting required saving, the connection would stall indefinitely.