Technology

Gateway Setup Assistant in OS X 10.5 Server

I was flipping through some documentation of 10.5 server today and found something that will interest a lot of people.  Maclive.net has hosted a great deal of discussion on Mac VPN solutions as well as the ability to use OS X Server to manage the network.  It looks like Apple has been paying attention to such discussion and was refining the existing feature set as 10.5 was developed.

Leopard server (10.5) will include a new utility called the Gateway Setup Assistant.  From what I have read, the idea is to finally make it easy to use OS X Server as the router on a home or office network.  The assistant promises to streamline the setup DHCP, DNS, Firewall, and even VPN configurations.

The concept is pretty simple.  As many users have found out in their quest for a powerful, flexible, and easy to use VPN solution, the configuration can be complicated.  Apple intends to make it easy.

Check out this page on Apple.com the provides some preliminary tastes of what 10.5 will have to offer when it is released.  And, be sure to check back here shortly after the release for updated info as we work with the new features and explore the changes.


Steve

OSX 10.5 to Improve .Mac: Point to Point VPN?

Most people believe that Apple’s .Mac service is overpriced and not updated frequently enough.  Honestly, I’m in that camp.  When the service was first introduced Apple claimed that users would have “free email for life.”  About a year later, the decision was reversed and Apple started charging $99 per year for the service that included email and a few other novelties such as synchronization of key data across computers.  When the switch-a-roo was pulled, I bailed on the services and registered Maclive.net to simply insure that I would never again have to change email providers.

I lamented for years with a great deal of irritation over the drastic increase of price.  Finally, last year I went back to the service strictly because I needed a good way to keep my calendar and address book synchronized between my tower and my MacBook.  I shell out the yearly blood money, but I do it with distain.

One of the .Mac features announced as part of the upcoming release of OSX 10.5 is something that might finally take the sting out of the yearly .Mac charge.  Apple calls the feature “Back to My Mac.”  It promises users the ability to access data on any of their Macs from anywhere on the web at any time.  It sounds ideal and it sounds like something the average Mac power user could really use.

Steve Jobs described the feature very simply on stage at this years WWDC (World Wider Developers Conference).  The inclusion of the feature in the presentation was almost anecdotal.  He mentioned it in a long list of new functionality and no one seemed to really pick up on the implications.  Mac users would have secure and immediate access to any data on their machine from anywhere in the world… sound simple and useful enough.  But the truth is, this isn’t a small feature that is easy to institute.
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Mac & Windows Firewalls

Last month we posted a story explaining how to share files between Macs and Windows based PCs.  Since that time, we’ve received a lot of mail from users who would like to know how to either disable their computer’s firewall, or add a rule to it so they can allow specific types of traffic.  Since different people have different needs when it comes to allowing traffic through the firewall, we’ll take a look at the rules necessary to allow file sharing between Macs and PCs.

The Importance of a Firewall
Before we begin, its important to understand how important a firewall is to a computers wellbeing.  If a computer is connected directly to a broadband internet connection (or any “always on” internet connection for that matter), it is inherently exposed to the world.  In most situations is preferable to have a router between a computer and its internet connection.  In most cases the router is running a NAT (network address translation) service that helps filter out unwanted incoming traffic.  Many people consider the routers NAT service to be a very effective firewall.  It does a good job of keeping the evildoers on the internet from accessing files without permission.  Unfortunately a NAT firewall doesn’t protect a computer from security concerns on the local network.  That’s where OS level software firewalls come it.

Many Mac users don’t even bother to activate the computer’s built-in firewall.  Since the Mac has a much lower attack surface on the internet, this rarely causes an issue.  That being said, there will come a day when Macs will be under attack in much the same way that we see Windows based PCs.  Thankfully, Apple has already added a software firewall to the Mac OS.  And whether needed today, or even active right now, it is good to know this form of powerful protection is there when we need it.
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Mac and Windows File Sharing: How to Connect

Macs and PCs play remarkably well on the same networks these days.  Both support the necessary interoperability right out of the box.  But when it comes to the details of the connectivity, that’s where people sometimes get lost.  After all we’re talking about two very different platforms in terms of connectivity and security.  For all of their similarities, the two platforms are still really quite different.

We’re about to detail the ins and outs of inter-platform connectivity.  In this case we’ll be connection to a Mac running OS X 10.4 from a Windows XP box, and conversely we’ll connect a Windows XP machine to a Mac.  While this post details Windows XP, Windows Vista will operate in much the same way.

Connecting a Windows XP Box to a Mac Share

We start on the Macintosh.  First pull down the Apple menu, select System Preferences, and click on Sharing.  Be sure to enable the Windows Sharing service.  Once it is activated, the accounts allowed access to the service must be selected.  If not promoted to specify the permissive account instantly, just click the Accounts button and select one or more usernames that will be allowed access to file shares hosted on the Mac.
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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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Apple Announces the iPhone

MacWorld SF kicked off this morning, and as is customary, Steve Jobs got the show off and running with his keynote address.  Each year, the Apple CEO showcases the new software or products that showcase Apple’s creativity  in the personal computer market.  This year was no exception.  Jobs finally took the veiled off the long rumored iPhone.

Rumors of the iPhone have been circulating for so long that it might actually be hard for Apple to live up to the hype.  With so much wild speculation, how could Apple possibly meet with expectations?  I wondered… and now I know.  Apple simply put all of the functionality a customer could ask for into a single device and did it in a way the was truly revolutionary.

The Apple iPod was made famous by the click wheel.  It was the center piece of the systems well crafted navigation system.  That navigation and organization system made the iPod and the click wheel made that possible.  Following on that idea, Apple engineered a new user interface for the iPhone.  Knowing that the new interface had to be simple, intuitive and easy to use, simply made the entire interface a touch screen.  What could be easier than using your finger to point and click on screen?  One large touch screen was simple and offered remarkable flexibility.  With the physical buttons replaced with icons, suddenly there were no limitations for the user interface.  No buttons that only worked in one more and not in another.  No confusion for the user.

With the device interface constraints no longer an issue, Apple really took the device to the next level.  Not only is the iPhone a cell phone with all of the normal functionality, but the device was literally turned into a next generation iPod that could play music and wide screen movies.  While they were at it, engineers added Safari based web browsing, Google and Yahoo support, and even a powerful SMS based text messaging.

Apple partnered with Cingular for the service and even developed a new interface for voicemail.  Google added a powerful new software package that allows the iPhone to tap into Google Maps without the need to touch a full fledged computer.  Yahoo partnered to develop a new push based email system that works with Yahoo Email accounts, bringing functionality similar the those of the Blackberry.  All the major players jumped on the Apple bandwagon.

So what are the specs?  The screen size is 3.5 inches, 320×480 at 160 pixels per inch.  The device runs a version of OS X.  The device is offered with storage capacities of either 4GB or 8GB.  The iPhone is 2.4 inches wide, 4.5 inches tall, and .46 inches thick.  The battery will run for up to 5 hours when used for video, talk, or browsing and 16 hours when used for audio playback only.  Wireless support includes quad-band GSM, 802.11b/g, EDGE, and Bluetooth 2.0.  The entire phone weighs just 4.8 ounces.  Bluetooth support is included making it compatible with wireless headsets in addition to its built-in speakerphone.  A gyroscope in the phone makes it possible for the screen to be used in either portrait or landscape mode.

Pricing information isn’t currently available on Apple.com.  According to the information provided during the keynote presentation, one of the models will be offered for $499.  Further information was not available at the time of this writing.  Unfortunately the phone is not expected to ship until June of 2007 which means that those chomping at the bit to lay down their hard earned money will have to wait.

Jobs did hint at additional product announcements coming over the next few months.  With the great features found in the iPhone, it seems logical that a new version of the iPod will be forthcoming.  The iPhone’s max capacity will be 8GB.  That still leaves a great deal of need for high capacity iPods with the new interface, screen size, and functionality.

With an unprecedented, and largely unfounded series of rumors preceding the iPhone’s announcement, it’s impressive to see Apple delivering on a product that looks like it will actually surpass expectations.  With months to go before the product reaches the market, all we can do is sit back and see if the average consumer will be willing to a hefty price for a product that might well do for the cell phone what the iPod did for portable music.


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

Azureus 3.0 Released

Azureus 3.0 was launched today.  The latest revision to the wildly popular Bittorrent client is a major departure from the interface found in previous versions.  In an apparent effort to monetize the open source application, Azureus has been bonded with a new web site called Zudeo.com.  The site seems to be engineered with the intent to further popularize torrent use by indexing content that does not infringe on content copyright holders.

The latest version of Azureus is a vast graphical departure from the interface found in version 2.5.  In fact, in looking at the application, it becomes difficult to see where Azureus leaves off and Zudeo.com begins.  The two have become very tightly infused in an effort to make them synonymous.  Azureus includes not only a graphical UI that looks like the Zudeo site, but it now includes a search feature that returns content results from Zudeo right in the torrent application.

So, is Azureus 3.0 a useful upgrade?  Honestly the jury is still out.  The application only hit the net this morning and so far even I’m not sure.  I use a torrent client to download the content that I want, not to search out content.  Based on initial testing, there isn’t a lot of interesting content currently indexed by Zudeo.  With that in mind, the launch is only hours old, and content listings will likely expand quickly.  In fact, Zudeo could become a powerful means of gathering podcast and IP based syndicated television content in time.  This is a market that Apple’s iTunes currently dominates and could stand some competition.

The user interface is a vast departure from what Azureus fans are use to.  Rest assured, the old classic look and functionality is just a click away.  A small tab in the upper right hand corner of the main window is labeled Advanced.  Click it and the old school, hardcore functionality of the Azureus we all know and love is restored.  With that, all of the power-user menus and preferences become accessible along with the powerful underlying plug-in architecture that has made the application so flexible.

Is Azureus 3.0 a step in the right direction?  Admittedly, I’m partial to the somewhat intimidating interface of past releases.  But then again, a new UI could make the app easier to use.  And anything that helps bring Bittorrent more into the mainstream and helps emphasize its legitimate uses can only be a good thing.  All of the past functionality of the application appears to have been maintain while adding new features that make the software easier to use.  For now, checkout Zudeo.com and download Azureus 3.0.  As of this moment, 3.0 has not been released on the SourceForge site, so, for now, Zudeo is the only place to find the latest release.


Steve

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