Technology

Bad Apple: The iPhone No Longer Has the Advantage

It pains me, truly, but Apple has a real problem on its hands.  That problem is called Android.  Apple’s iPhone has essentially become the same 800 pound gorilla that Microsoft was in the 1990’s: it achieved critical mass and has become slow to adapt as a result.  While Google iterate quickly with every release of the Android operating system, Apple’s iPhone is now evolving slowly in comparison.  And that inability to evolve is costing Apple.

Software is only half of the what it takes to win.  Apple still has a great thing going with the iOS.  It remains the gold standard.  It’s the mobile operating system one can hand to a novice with confidence that they can find their way alone.  People who are not accustomed or comfortable with traditional computers can grok the iOS because it has a uniform user interface and controls which remain consistent from one app to the next.  This is an area where Android is, and always has been, lacking.  But every version of Android improves dramatically.  Apple needs to pay more attention to that threat.

The significant threat to Apple’s dominance, at the moment, is the hardware running the Android operating system.  Because, to put it plainly, some of the latest Android phones are down right sexy.  They have large, high quality screens and very fast, multi-core processors.  Hardware development is advancing quickly— far faster than Apple can counter.  And, for whatever reason, Apple seems strangely reluctant to make even the most obvious hardware updates to offset their deficiency.
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How Pinger Failed. Is This a Problem with Free Apps in General?

pinger_iconI had a bad experience with an iPhone app recently that I wanted to share.  Partially to warn others to keep an eye on their Pinger app, and partially because it’s a problem that could apply to other “free” apps.  We all need to keep in mind that free apps are free for a reason.  Nothing can remain free unless it can become self supporting in some way.  And when you look at the service or feature that an app provides, often there is infrastructure behind it with associated cost.  It could be a web server with a database, or in the case of Pinger, infrastructure relating to phone number allocation and VoIP gear.

Pinger is a free app for the iOS that provides users with a phone number that will ring through on an iOS device.  Phone calls can be made via VoIP.  But the feature I used was limited to SMS and MMS messaging.  This was all provided free to users.  Pinger makes money, in part, by up-selling its service when users make phone calls to non-Pinger number in select circumstances.

Understandably, Pinger expires a users personal phone number after 30 days of non-use.  30 days seems like a rather limited window of opportunity but that’s their policy and their decision to make.  My problem was that my number was taken away at the end of 30 days without so much as a warning.  In the past, I had received a message warning me that I was nearing the end of 30 days and would lose my number if I didn’t use the Pinger app.  So I would use the app and all was well for the foreseeable future.  I was confident that the number that many of my friends used the contact me was relatively reliable.
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802.11g vs 802.11n and the iPad: What Does it Really Mean?

wireless_iconMany of us have wireless devices that we connect to wi-fi networks.  Those wi-fi networks then connect to the internet via a broadband connection of some kind.  But many people fail to realize that the speed of their wi-fi is often much slower than the speed of their internet connection.  The truth is, if you’re just tooling around the web, surfing Facebook, or updating Twitter, that speed won’t matter.  But if you’re playing games or download files, you might be missing out!

For maximum performance and reliability, a wired connection is king.  Wireless is susceptible to interference from cordless phones, microwave ovens, baby monitors, even that FBI field van sitting down the street.  It’s almost impossible to tell what might be wreaking havoc with your wireless signal at any given point.  So, if you have the option, go for a wired connection if you have the opertunity.  Especially if you’re running a server of some sort in the house.  Particularly media servers, and devices serving up high bandwidth audio or video files.  Wi-fi networks are only half duplex, meaning data is either sent or received at any given time.   Wired networks are full duplex meaning that the network line sends data while at the same time receiving it.  When it comes to network throughput there is no question, full duplex is your ultimate goal.
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Apple’s Fusion Drive, Can You Roll Your Own?

Apple’s new Fusion Drive technology sounds interesting.  If you go strictly by the name and the brief description of the technology, you might be under the impression that Apple is using those old hybrid drives that never really took off.  The ones that were a conventional spinning disc with a SSD portion built into the same drive mechanism.  It was supposed to enhance the performance of the HDD but not require the price tag of the SSD.  Nice theory, but the drives never took off.  But, good news!  Apple’s Fusion Drive is something entirely different.

Apple’s Fusion Drive is a hardware/software solution that takes 2 disparate drive mechanisms inside the Mac and merges them together at an OS level.  The SSD is used for the OS, applications, and the most frequently used data.  Data that is not speed sensitive or frequently accessed is stored on the HDD.  But the creative bit that Apple has here, the “secret sause,” is that the operating system moves this data between the drives automatically.  No user intervention required.  In fact, even though there are two separate drives in the Mac, the user only sees one logical partition.
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Which is Faster, Parallels Desktop 8 or VMware Fusion 5?

parallels_logoWith very recent updates from both VMWare and Parallels, the virtualization arms race is once again heating up on the Macintosh.  VMWare recently released VMWare Fusion 5 while Parallels just trotted out the release of Parallels Desktop 8.  Both products are fully Mountain Lion compatible (Mac OS X 10.8.x), and both support that latest from Microsoft: the still iffy Windows 8.

The support for Mountain Lion is a big deal with this update.  Both products had issues with OS X 10.8 in their prior release though each had offered patches to resolve some of the problems.  But the latest versions of both products now support Notification Center, so alert message from the VM will be tucked away in the corner of the Mac’s screen for easy reference.  Both packages offer support for Launchpad making it possible to have Windows based apps interspersed with Mac applications in the Mac Launchpad.  And both make it possible to dictate text into Windows based applications using Mountain Lion’s built-in voice dictation functionality.
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Dropbox: How Does BoxCryptor Compare to TrueCrypt?

Following a post earlier this week extolling the virtues of BoxCryptor, I received an email from a reader asking how it compared to TrueCrypt when it came to securing the contents of a Dropbox.  This was such a great question that it warranted a followup post all its own.  For the unfamiliar, TrueCrypt is a great open-source end to end encryption tool.  It is a software package that does a lot of things and does them very well.  Many of its features are beyond the scope of this post.  We are going to take a look at the features as they pertain specifically to Dropbox.

TrueCrypt allows users to create an encrypted disk image anywhere on the computers file system.  In this case, users have been choosing to create that image inside the root of the Dropbox folder.  This means that the encrypted TrueCrypt image is then synced back to the Dropbox server cloud and all other client systems attached to that Dropbox account.  In order to use this encrypted disk image, the user must first mount it on a Mac or Windows PC.  Once the image has been mounted, files can be copied to and from the image as though the mounted image were an attached USB thumb drive.  The advantage being that any files stored on this mounted image are encrypted by the simple virtue of being saved to the TrueCrypt disk image.

There are several problems with this configuration.  First is that, while the disk image is mounted, the contents of the TrueCrypt file cannot sync back to the Dropbox cloud.  So real time sync is really out.  So the users workflow must consist of mounting the disk image that is stored in the Dropbox.  The user can then copy data to or from the image, or work on files directly off of the disk image saving their revisions back to the image.  When finished, the user then dismounts the virtual disk.  At this point Dropbox picks up the change to the TrueCrypt file and then uploads the entire TrueCrypt disk image file to the Dropbox server cloud.
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Dropbox Adds 2 Factor Authentication

dropbox_iconDropbox added support for two factor authentication earlier this week.  This is a great step in securing Dropbox data but I wonder if the less technically immersed will understand exactly what this means for them.  It’s one thing to know that two factor authentication is a good thing but something entirely different to know why.  And since it actually requires more effort to access user data a times, it is also important to understand why this extra effort is worth its weight in gold.

Anyone who banks using an ATM machine is already well versed in the concept, whether they know it or not.  Every ATM transaction uses two factor authentication.  Each transaction requires a banking card, something that the user has in their possession, and each transaction requires every user to enter their PIN code, something that the users knows.  Anyone trying to access a bank account via the ATM but lacking either one of these requirements simply is not allowed access.

The same functionality can now be added to Dropbox, though in a slightly different implementation.  Normal access to a Dropbox account is authenticated via a login, also known as a username and password combination.  This is considered more traditional security.  It is something that the user knows.  But the potentially fatal flaw here is that anyone who knows the login information can access the entire contents of the Dropbox account.  And since it is a Dropbox account, this means that data can be accessed from anywhere in the world.  So, should a users login information be compromised by a virus or malware, or even a disgruntled trusted friend, this means that anyone with that login information has access to the contents of the Dropbox from anywhere on the planet.  Ouch.
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BoxCryptor: Secure Your Dropbox

Two factor authentication entered public testing this week and is being welcomed with open arms by the security conscious among us.  But since the very first release of Dropbox, I have hungered for the ultimate in personal information security: the ability to specify a personal encryption key for my account and the data contained within.  While I consider two factor authentication a serious win for security, I still won’t trust the cloud with any truly sensitive information until I know that my files are wrapped in encryption that only I can decode.

Enter BoxCryptor, an application that runs on a Mac or Windows computer.  It creates an encrypted folder, essentially a secure disk image that is placed on the local drive.  Simply save this file into the Dropbox folder and the BoxCryptor folder actually becomes a mounted drive on your Mac desktop.  When creating the BoxCryptor folder, the user is asked to enter their own encryption key.  Any files that are saved into this mounted drive (or into the BoxCryptor folder inside the Dropbox folder since they are one and the same) is then encrypted and synced to the Dropbox cloud just like normal Dropbox data.  The only significant difference is that the data has been encrypted prior to leaving the local computer.
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Maclive.net Moves to WordPress CMS

jobs_bio-iconThis is the first official live post on the WordPress CMS.  The previous posts have all been migrated over from the last web site.  In this post I want to take a look at some of the features of WordPress and kick the tires on some of the basic configuration changes such as basic Twitter support that I will be adding to the default template.

In just getting started here, I just made a massive mistake.  I used the undo function of the browser, Google Chrome in this case, to correct a mistake I made in my writing.  It undid my writing alright.  It got rid of a ton of my content and there is not redo option to get it back.  All of my text is gone with no means of restoring.  With that in mind, it would still be best to do the writing in a dedicated text editor and then past the content into this page for posting.  But looking closer, it wold be wise to keep in mind that Apple+Z is the undo command in the browser.  The GUI text editor in the WordPress authoring area actually has its own undo function.  Had I used that, it is likely that I could have used the companion Redo option to retrieve the work that was lost.  Still, this is a sticky area as Apple+Z based undo is a shortcut that most of us use without thinking.  In just about every single other application it would have function exactly how I had anticipated.  I guess I live and learn!
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Sprint’s 4G Wireless vs AT&T’s 4G Wireless

Apple released iOS 5.1 this week, and with it made an interesting change to iPhones that make use of the AT&T network.  The new update changes the AT&T 3G logo in the upper left corner of the screen to now read as 4G when connected to HSPA+ networks.  Keep in mind that no magic has occurred in the iOS device.  No new radios have been added, activated, or even upgraded.  Its simply a matter of semantics.  AT&T wants their service to compete with other services like Sprint that currently advertise 4G wireless network access.

AT&T can call it whatever they want, 3G is a commonly understood wireless standard at this point but the definition of 4G wireless is still a topic of great debate.  Does a network qualify as 4G simply by being able to attain a set base level of performance?  Does a 4G network require specific hardware or must it implement certain technology?  Or is a 4G network simply any 4th generation version of any wireless service?  It depends entirely on whom you ask and what their company has to gain from the answer.

With all of vagary associated with 4G, only one thing really matters to the users– and that’s the speeds at which they access the internet.  So, putting aside all of the jargon and getting right down to real world numbers, lets see how Sprint’s 4G wireless compares to AT&T’s “4G” wireless service.

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