Macintosh

Apple’s MacBooks Support 3GB of RAM

Who said that nothing good can come from breaking the rules?  Apple’s specs for the Intel Core 2 based MacBooks state clearly that the computer supports up to 2GB of RAM via a pair of 1GB chips.  But after extensive testing in the Skunk Works over at OWC (Other World Computing), it turns out that the MacBook can support just as much memory as its big brother, the MacBook Pro!

Apple claims that systems using the GMA950 graphics chipset require memory modules be installed in equal pairs.  Apple indicates that a massive performance hit is the result of unmatched memory.  But in OWC’s testing, this proved rarely to be the case.  In fact, in most tests there was a negligible performance penalty when running odd memory configurations.

With this is mind, the next logical question would be the MacBooks support for a 3GB memory configuration.  That was the next test the OWC lab rats decided to run.  Not only did the MacBooks boot with a 2GB and 1GB chip running in tandem, but the memory was also properly addressed by the operating system!

So now that the MacBook can boot and address 3GB of RAM, the next thing to test was performance.  Though specific benchmarks have yet to be posted, my source tells me that the MacBooks perform just as well in a 3GB configuration as they did with 1.5GB.

Not only is the MacBook a powerful and economical dual core notebook, but it turns out that it can sport just as much memory as the top of the line MacBook Pro.  And with modern applications consuming more and more memory, it becomes more and more advisable to add as much memory as possible to any computer that does heaving lifting.


Steve

A Mac Users Guide to Encrypted Email

Information has become a commodity.  Insuring the information is private as well as authentic can be key in evaluating the worth of content.  But one of the most overwhelming problems with encrypting email is the fact that most people don’t understand how to go about securing their messages.  Encryption can be used to keep the contents of the email safe from prying eyes.  It can also be used to certify that the message a person receives was actually issued by the individual listed in the messages from field.  Email encryption is a complicated process that is simply convoluted for the average computer user.  Mac users are no exception, so here’s a rundown on the ins and outs of encrypted email.

What is needed in order to send encrypted email?
Most web mail services lack the advanced features required to encrypt email messages beyond communication with people in the same domain.  As a result, an email client application is required.  Most mature email applications offer support for encrypted messages.  On the Mac, the big names are Apple Mail and Microsoft Entourage.  Since Entourage is my email client of choice (one that I regret on a weekly basis at times), we’ll mainly cover that.  Its worth noting that Entourage is actually more complicated to configure for encryption than Apple Mail which in some ways makes the configuration process almost invisible.

With a bonafide email client selected, its time to generate the certificate that actually does the encryption.  There are at least a half dozen reputable places that generate SSL certificates, but most charge for the service.   Thawte.com is one institution with a  long track record of offering free personal email encryption certificates.  In order to generate a certificate, Thawte requires a fair amount of personal information.  They are justified in this constraint as they make a reasonable effort to ensure you are who you claim to be prior to the issue of the certificate.  Simply put, just fill out the forms requesting the email certificate and wait.  Once the information is validated, an email is issued to the requested account to let the user know the certificate has been generated.
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OS X 10.5 to Have Content Protection?

The Gibson & Laporte podcast, Security Now, has spent the last few episodes discussing the ramifications of the new content protection schemes implemented in Windows Vista.  The discussion centers around the assertion by Microsoft that without these protections in Vista, there would be no way to play next generation content such as High-Def DVD formats on the Windows platform.  Industry analysis question whether this is the case.  And, as the debate rages on, I can only wonder what this will mean for content options afforded to users of the upcoming release of Mac OS X 10.5.

Security Now has been discussing in detail a report written by Peter Gutmann, a long time security researcher.  The white paper was an analysis of the content protections implemented in the recently released Windows Vista. Gutmann looked at the Vista protections from an interesting prospective.  He wondered what the cost of these protections would be for the end user.  For example, the protections are extensive, and those protections and their services require system resources.  The use of those resources cost the system in terms of memory and processor overhead.  And, given that not all users have a need for next generation content, it seems unnecessary for these protections to hinder the performance of systems that don’t utilize the new medias.

Gutmann used Microsoft’s publicly available whitepapers detailing the technology to make some very interesting assertions.  The details of which are unfortunately beyond the scope of this story.  Microsoft’s response to the white paper is what really concerns me.  Essentially, according to the extensive information discussed in the Security Now podcast, Microsoft simply explains that without these protections there could be no next generation media support on the personal computing platform.  Some argue that Microsoft has enough pull in the market that they could have opposed the protections and won the battle with content creators.  A 90% market share would be something substantial to contend with.  But since Microsoft put up no such fight we will never know.
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Microsoft’s Mac Envy

Does Microsoft really have Mac envy?  Informationweek.com had an interesting post dealing evidence that surfaced in a recent anti-trust case against Microsoft.  The documents disclosed included correspondence between Microsoft evangelists, Microsoft executives and Vista project manager Jim Allchin.  According to the Informationweek article, the documents were written following some Windows evangelists return from the Apple World Wide Developers Conference back in June of 2004.

Among the more interesting points in the documents were observations concerning Mac OS X 10.4’s new file search capabilities, video chat, and desktop widgets.  The documents detailed Microsoft’s understanding that they needed to raise the bar on past efforts before making their beta demonstration in September of 2005 at the Professional Developers Conference.  It became obvious that the Windows Vista (then known as Longhorn) beta that that planned to display to the public would be very quickly compared to Mac OS X and if efforts weren’t doubled, Microsoft would be left with nothing but bad press.

The story doesn’t explain how this information is relevant to the anti-trust case, but it’s sure to be a feather in the cap of Mac evangelists around the world.  Mac users have long alleged that Microsoft developers have liberated some of their most innovative technologies from the Apple campus.  Court cases have found truth in these rumors in the past and it seems that tangible evidence has once again surfaced.

Its no wonder that, given this information, Apple engineers have been ultra-secretive about the features of the upcoming revision to Mac OS X.  Version 10.5 is said to include some truly revolutionary innovations.  Apple has even stated its desire to keep these new technologies under wraps to prevent competitors from “firing up their photocopiers.”

Checkout the Informationweek story here.  Its an interesting read.  Be sure to send the link to every one of your Windows using buddies too!


Steve

Mac Based Tablet Announced

Mac users who have lusted over tablet PC functionality will finally have a Mac version to quench their thirst.  The product will be called the Axiotron ModBook.  It’s essentially a modified MacBook with a stylus compatible screen that allows users to write and draw directly on the screen.  The standard MacBook features will remain intact including integrated Combo drive and iSight support.

Pricing has not yet been set, but the product has been confirmed.  The actual press release will come at MacWorld SF 2007.  Though further details are still sketchy, it has been confirmed that the product will be available with optional GPS support.  The tablet will also be constructed out of a more durable material, an aircraft grade magnesium alloy.  From the sound of things, this will be the Tablet Mac that Apple never bothered to build (at least for the masses).

We’ve been hearing rumors of a Tablet Mac for years.  Some say that Apple has experimented with the idea.  Others have come up with crude home brew style solutions using Mini’s and old PowerBooks.  The Axiotron ModBook will mark the first commercially available solution.  The ModBook will be sold exclusively by Other World Computing.

More details to follow on January 9th when the product is officially unveiled.  A first hand demo is currently being negotiated, so keep your fingers crossed and keep an eye on Maclive.net for further information as it becomes available.


Steve

Seagate to Offer Encrypted Hard Drives

Seagate has announce plans to release a new generation of mobile hard drives.  The drives will offer a hardware encryption mechanism built into the mechanism.  Every bit of data that is written to the drive will be secure.  This maybe the best means by which mobile users can truly secure their data.

Mobile computer users are most vulnerable to equipment theft.  And when a computer is stolen, the computers data is ultimately compromised.  Seagate’s plan is to keep the computer data secure, even if the computer falls into the wrong hands.  The would be thief would have possession of the computer terminal, but without the requisite password, the con would have no way to access the data stored on the drive.

The idea is that a computer user would have to enter a password before the machine would even boot from the drive.  Some might see it as another step or a potential hassle, but many believe Seagate has the right idea.  In recent months, tech sites have reported massive problems with data theft due to stolen portables.  Recently the theft of a laptop computer resulted in the exposure of thousands of veterans social security numbers.  Mobile computers using Seagate’s DriveTrust line of hard drives would not be susceptible to such information disclosure.

It sounds like Seagate has a great thing going.  As long as the implementation is solid, secure, and unobtrusive, other manufacturers will likely follow suit.  It will also be important to note whether or not the new encrypted mechanisms are capable of the same access speeds found in current conventional drives.  As of yet, there is no word on performance.  If there is a serious performance hit due to the encryption overhead, DriveTrust will be doomed to failure.


Steve

Mac Application Removes iTunes DRM

Mac users being held hostage by Apple’s iTunes DRM (digital rights management) might have something the cheer about.  A possible reprieve is being offered by seidai.50webs.com.  The tool is called FairGame and it aims to free users from Apple’s DRM known as FairPlay.

FairGame is a Mac application that essentially uses scripting to automate a process of re-encoding iTunes music using iMovie and iTunes.  The benefit of this particular process is that the music’s metadata, lyrics, and artwork remain intact.  Quite creative, all things considered.

In my testing, I was unable to get FairGame to function.  It kept breaking part of the way through the script.  The first issue I had was the result of Default Folder.  Disabling the Default Folder for iMovie got me even further through the process before the script simply failed.

What I found most interesting about FairGame is the way that the scripting was setup.  I’ve never seen anything like it on the Mac (without the user of a 3rd party runtime tool).  Rather than running a series of invisible AppleScript events to automate the conversion process, FairGame seems to be a scripted set of mouse based evens provided by the author.  When running FairGame, the user can literally watch all of the screen based events take place.  The mouse moves across the screen, menu are selected, options are changed, and files are manipulated.  I’ve never seen this done before.  Impressed as I am with the DRM removal tool, I’m even more curious how this script was generated.

As is always the case with files that are transcoded, a quality loss will invariably result.  The results of this are generally more reliant on the quality of the codecs used along the way.  At one point, FairGame transcodes the original iTunes file to WAV format.  Once in WAV format, the file should have every bit the audio quality as the original as WAV is lossless.  The only real hit will occur when FairGame converts the file back to AAC for MP3.  The same sort of loss would occur when users burn protected music to a CD, and then convert back to AAC to remove the DRM.  FairGame simply streamlines the process and saves CD media and time.

Posts around the web seem to indicate that I’m not the only one who has had trouble getting FairGame to work.  This post on iPoddNN.com shows a great deal of user feedback.  I encourage users to give FairGame a shot.  Your mileage may vary, but the concept is sound.


Steve

Keeping Two Macs in Sync

When it comes to the Mac power user, it’s not unusual to have two computers that are used in tandem.  In many cases these computers include a portable (iBook, PowerBook, MacBook, MacBook Pro) and a work horse tower.  The laptop is used when the user is on the road, and the tower for all of the internal office heavy lifting.  The challenge for a user like this is finding a way to keep data in sync.  This has been my situation for many years.  In order to keep a smooth workflow, I had to find a way to keep my files mirrored between the two machines.

On the surface, it seems that maintaining to Macs would be a simple task.  In theory, installing the same software on both computers insures that you have what you need when you need it.  One complication is the need to install all of the software twice.  Patches add another wrinkle to the workflow if you are driven to keep all of the software patched to the latest and greatest.  But with a little planning, even this isn’t a big problem.  But as you look deeper it turns out that the software is really the easy part.

Things really get complicated for users who need to keep their documents and data synchronized between two computers.  When it comes to applications, the situation is simple: you either have the app you need when you need it or you don’t.  When it comes to files, you need to make sure the document you are working with is the latest revision.  It becomes very easy to lose track of which computer holds the latest revision of any given file, especially for users that switch computers frequently.
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Teleport Gets an Update

Teleport is a simply and powerful remote control solution for the Macintosh.  KVM’s are typically hardware devices that let users share a single keyboard, mouse, and monitor with multiple computers.  Teleport is a unique software solution the provides similar functionality.  Simply install Teleport on the necessary Mac systems and one keyboard and mouse gain the ability to control multiple computers.

How It Works:
Install the Teleport preference pane on the necessary Mac systems.  One computer becomes the control console for the other systems.  The control system is the one that has the mouse and keyboard physically attached to it.  The other computers don’t need their own mouse or keyboard because the control system’s mouse and keyboard motion and tracking data are transferred to the remote system via the network (wired or wireless).
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How Universal is Your Mac?

Apple did the Mac community proud when it released the first round of Intel based Macintosh systems.  The new machines perform brilliantly, and provide the speed increases that users have been clamoring for.  Unfortunately that performance increase has become something of a double edged sword.  The applications that really let the new systems flex their muscles are referred to as Universal Binary.  The term indicates that the software has been compiled to run natively on older PowerPC based systems as well as new Intel based hardware.  And while Universal Binary applications shine on the new machines, older PowerPC optimized applications run in emulation and their performance suffers greatly as a result.

For the average user, telling the difference between Universal and non-Universal software can be less than intuitive.  The most direct way to find out its to simply use the Finder’s Get Info command on the application’s icon.  The info window clearly lists the application as either Universal, or PowerPC (or in rare cases, as Intel).  See the icons below.
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