Software

Democracy Player Updated

Democracy Player 0.9.2.1 was released this afternoon.  The new version provides a multitude of bug fixes and now uses significantly less memory.  0.9.2.1 is said to require 50-75% less RAM that the previous release.  In addition, the new release is also much faster.

For the unfamiliar, Democracy aims to be something of an internet based TV set.  Democracy Player uses RSS and Bit torrent to aggregate podcasts and other web based audio and video content into one easy to use application.  The application not only makes it easy to find the content, but takes care of watching for updated content as well.  Simply subscribe to your favorite syndicated webcast using its RSS link and all of the new episodes are automatically downloaded.

Over time, Democracy has seen a great deal of evolution.  The product has become more stable and useful with each release.  And for a pre 1.0 release, the application shows a great deal of promise.  The easing up on its memory requirements makes this updated a milestone release.  Now is truly the best time to take a look at the software if you are downloading for the first time.  If you’ve used Democracy in the past, it might be time to take another look.  Download it and try it for your self today at getdemocracy.com.

How to Delete Autofill Options in Firefox

Mozilla recently released Firefox 2.0.  While the esthetics of the changes were minimal, the browser has clearly come a long way.  With 2.0, the interface icons are more refined and the tabs look a little more polished.  Perhaps the most impressive and long overdue feature to be added is spellchecking.  But for all of its refinements, sometimes Firefox still manages to leave me frustrated.  In this case, the browsers autofill feature can be problematic.

Firefox’s autofill feature can make filling out web based forms a breeze.  It can also drive one quite insane.  Since filling out forms can sometimes be tedious, Firefox routinely caches recently used values specific to any given form field.  This can be a real time saver for people who need to login to password protected areas of different web sites.

But what happens when mistype your username a single time?  Suddenly you visit your login screen and Firefox no longer autofills in your login information.  Clicking in the field reveals a list of possible user names where there had once only been your own.  Now you must select either the correct login name from the list of options, or your typographical error.  Why should you be forced to look at your typo every time you login?  Isn’t there a way to deleted the incorrect value?

Search Firefox all you like… you simply won’t find a place to clean up the values stored in the autofill for forms.  But if you know the trick, its actually very easy to remove the unneeded autofill options from any given field.

When clicking on the offending field (or sometimes double clicking), a list of autofill options will appear.  Simply use the keyboards arrow keys to travel down the list until the erroneous value is highlighted.  Then, just hold down the Shift key and strike the Delete key.  That value will no longer appear in the form field as an autofill option.

This a simple and powerful feature that is simply not well documented.  Autofill options are great time savers, but they can also be the source of great frustration.  This simple tip can prevent annoyance while restoring productivity.


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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What Does the Future Hold for Hamachi?

It’s confirmed.  Hamachi, the killer free P2P VPN software solution has been purchased by LogMeIn.com.  Given LogMeIn’s current market aimed at business support solutions, the future of Hamachi is in question.  The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.  For now we can only hope that the product will remain a free solution.

LogMeIn’s intention seems to be the same as many current Hamachi users.  They intend to integrate the software into current products that allow easy and intuitive offsite tech support.  Checkout the press release here and tune in later for more news as it develops.


Steve

Hamachi: Peer to Peer VPN Connections

Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are the safest way to connect computers or computer networks over the internet.  Once a VPN connection is established, the data between the systems on either side of the VPN tunnel exchange data that has been wrapped in encryption.  This prevents evil doers from accessing the data while it’s in transit.

Unfortunately, while VPNs are an extremely secure way to connect computers, configuring the VPN connection often borders on rocket science.  The routing, IP protocols, and assortment of encryption options often keep even the advanced computer users needlessly spinning their wheels for days.  In many cases, people simply give up on the concept of security and fall back to more conventional and much less secure means of transferring data.

In a previous post on this site, I detailed how to configure the VPN service built-in to OS X Server.  The article explained how to configure the VPN server so that remote clients (telecommuters or portable computer users) could access a secure LAN over the internet using a VPN client.  And while the story was very well received, it became obvious that I wasn’t the only one stumbling to get a VPN server working correctly.

A conventional VPN connects a remote user to a secure network, be it home or corporate.  Once the VPN connection is in place, all data between the remote client and the VPN server is wrapped in a tunnel of encryption.  It’s impervious to anyone trying to eavesdrop as the data is transmitted over the internet.  This is what makes it a virtual private network.  The VPN allows the remote user access to all of the network resources of the home or corporate network as if the remote user where plugged into a network port right on the LAN.
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Multiple Simultaneous VPN Connections in OS X

The VPN client built into OS X 10.4 is nothing short of amazing.  As expected, it can connect to the VPN server built into 10.4 Server.  It can also connect to almost any L2TP or PPTP server such as those built into Linksys and Cisco routers.  To anyone who has used OS X’s VPN client, this is probably old news.  But few people actually realize that the client is actually capable of connecting to multiple VPN servers simultaneously.

Consider the situation I ran into last week.  My office is in northern Illinois.  I was setting up a network at my company’s new facility in Florida.  One night I was working late from my hotel room and needed to connect to my network back in Illinois as well as access data on the network at the new office location on the other side of town.  I had already set up VPN access to both locations but I was stuck when I needed to access both networks at the same time.  I starting to explore the VPN connection options of the Internet Connect application on my laptop and discovered that it was actually possible to connect to multiple VPN servers simultaneously.  Though not immediately obvious, the ability actually does exist.

First, it is necessary to understand that there are really two ways to add a new VPN connection to the Internet Connect application.  One allows for multiple simultaneous connections while the other does not.  If there are no VPN configurations set in Internet Connect it is first necessary to create a new one by selecting New VPN Connection from the File menu.  Next, select the VPN type— either L2TP or PPTP.  The following screen will ask for the Server Address, Account Name, and Password.  There is also a Configuration menu.  Pull down the menu and select Edit Configurations.  This provides full access to all of the settings needed to configure a VPN connection.  It is worth noting that is good practice to always select Edit Configurations rather than simply input the settings into the first screen that asks for Server Address, Account Name, and Password.  In the case of L2TP connections, it is not possible to establish a connection to a VPN server without specifying the Secret.  This can only be done from the extended information screen available under Edit Configurations.
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Why Should a Remote User Route All Traffic Over a VPN?

This post is a follow-up to the article posted last week detailing how to setup OS X’s built-in VPN Server.

One of the cool new features in 10.4’s VPN client is the ability to send all traffic over the VPN.  As one reader noted, this is great for people using public access, like a wireless network at the upcoming MacWorld Expo.

Setting the VPN client to send all traffic over the VPN has several advantages, and two possible disadvantages.  First, the down side.

Disadvantages:
Consider the bandwidth available to your VPN server.  If you are on a corporate network, odds are you have a synchronous internet connection, meaning that the internet connections upstream bandwidth is equal to its down stream.  This is the case with the T1 at my office.  If your VPN server is using a consumer level broadband provider, odds are your connection is asynchronous.  This is often the case with DSL or cable modem connections.  The downstream might be a high as 8Mb, while the upstream is limited to 384Kb.  That is the case with my cable modem at home.
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Setup Mac OS X VPN Server for Mac & XP Clients

Mac OS X Server has included VPN support for some time.  And, in true Apple fashion, it brings simplicity to a very complicated and technical server function.  Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are used to securely connect two networks over the internet.  This is done by creating an encrypted tunnel between the two networks.  The tunnel wraps around all data that is passed in either direction.  This keeps the information safe from prying eyes as it crosses the insecure internet.  The tunnel endpoints take care of all the encryption and decryption so that, once the tunnel is established, the network communication is seamless to users.

In many cases, VPNs connect two routers and effectively bridges two networks.  In the case of a telecommuter, the home router might establish a tunnel with a corporate router in order to allow the home user access to services on the company network.  In this scenario, the two routers are the endpoints for the VPN.  Router to router based VPNs are often very difficult to configure, especially when one of the endpoints is a high powered enterprise class device like those provided by companies like Cisco.  Router to router VPNs are often hardware based because the routers on either end have hardware built into them that is dedicated to processing VPN traffic.

Mac OS X Server has the ability to create software based VPN tunnels.  Combine that with the VPN client software built into the client version of Mac OS X and you have a very powerful and easy to configure VPN solution.

Consider this scenario.  A corporation runs Mac OS X server on their network.  A number of mobile users need to connect to the corporate network in order to access internal systems.  Once the Mac server is properly configured, the remote users can establish a secure VPN tunnel between their desktop machine and the corporate network using nothing more that software already built into their operating system.  And, once the VPN tunnel is established, all of the information exchanged between the remote user and the office network is fully encrypted and secure.
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