Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lion Part 3, Updates, iTunes Story

10.7.1 is out

If you are one of the few who upgraded to Lion 10.7, Apple just issued the first, much-needed, update. It consists of the usual round of bug fixes and no visible changes. I installed it immediately, did the usual repair-permissions thing, and am using it now.

It hasn't been made any more compatible with PPC applications, and it never will. So I must continue using my dual MBAir/MacMini system so I can keep using Quicken, Eudora, Word 2008 and all the other stuff that Lion won't run.

Lion Experiences, Part 3

But living with 10.7 for almost a month now has gotten me used to the new features. Last week's PMUG meeting taught me more about the system than three weeks of dinking around did, and I find I like it more. The new backwards scrolling feels more natural now and it's harder to switch back. I am also enjoying the new Mission Control feature that replaced Spaces, and the full-screen feature that I am using with Screen Sharing. In fact, Screen Sharing works so well now I could probably reduce using my KVM switch to move between systems. I still get bitten by forgetting to eject the USB drive before hitting the switch, which has the same result as unplugging without ejecting. I just wish the USB part of the KVM switch worked. It was the last hole in the system.

Setting the Shared Screen to the Mini while running under Lion gives me the best of both worlds. It feels just like I am running Eudora in Lion. Yes, I understand that Eudora is a shambling zombie, shedding limbs as it stumbles around the abandoned city seeking brains, but I have not found a program I like more. Price of being old, I guess.

I Now Take Plastic

Got an iPhone? Run a small business? If you never contracted with Visa/MC to take plastic before due to hassle and expense, there is a real alternative with Square. Visit the iTunes Store and hunt down the Square app. You download a small program to the phone, then go to their web site to register an account and tell them which bank they should transfer your money to, and then they mail you a little "square" device that plugs into the earphone jack on your phone. Open the app, plug in the Square, and you are ready to swipe a card. Its security is as good as any credit card system (faint praise, I know) but their service charge is half that of a normal Visa system. Fill out the customer's email address and the dollar amount and the transfer is immediate. An email receipt is sent to the customer, and after a couple of days, the amount, minus 2.5%, is transferred to your bank.

So if you ever want to charge my service call, remind me if I don't mention it.

Snow Leopard Update

As you may remember, I put the 10.6.8 update on the Don't Bother list. It didn't offer any advantages and did introduce serious bugs for a few people; enough to keep the Mac blogs hopping for weeks.

Someone at Apple was paying attention, because last week they issued an update to the update, 10.6.8 v1.1, which reportedly fixed a lot of the problems. So states the experience of people writing in. Me, I don't know because I stayed at 10.6.7 and will continue to do so.

In releasing the update, Apple also repaired the downloadable Combo Update without changing the name. If you were to go to Apple/Downloads and get it, the new version contains the fixes and Software Update would not offer the 1.1 updater after you installed it. About This Mac would still say 10.6.8.

If you ever do decide to go Lion, you can use 10.6.6 or later to get it from the App Store. When you do, the Lion installer will take you directly to 10.7.1. It couldn't hurt you to wait for 10.7.2, which is now being seeded to developers to test their own programs against. See it by September.

Leopard Updates

There are still updates issued for Leopard 10.5. The final version is 10.5.8 and that is required for the latest iTunes and a few other things, but if you don't need that and are using 10.5.7, stay put until you leave Leopard for good. There are security updates being issued and they are important now that there is actual Mac malware around. Do get those.

iTunes 10.4

It works. No bugs. I am pleasantly surprised. Usually the dot-zero version of any upgrade is problematic. Every Mac I have run it on has demonstrated normal behavior. Good job, iTunes team.

Speaking of iTunes

Most people use the Migration Assistant to move their data from an old Mac to a new one. Sometimes, when that isn't possible or desirable, I manually move the appropriate files, preferences, picture and movie files. That usually works out fine, but there is a problem with iTunes that has not been fixed since the first time I experienced it, three or four years ago.

iTunes is the only application that makes non-standard use of the green button. All other apps will toggle between full size and previous size whenever you click it. iTunes, however, switches between mini-player and normal window. The only way to change the size is to grab the lower right corner and manually resize it. But what do you do if the window is too big for the screen and you can't reach that corner because it's below the bottom? Nothing. You're stuck. This happens if you copy the iTunes Folder from Music on a big screen to a small one, like a MacBook. The program thinks it's still on the big screen and the bottom is down below the bottom, in unreachable-land.

The first time it happened, when I realized what it was doing, I went back to the older Mac, opened iTunes, and shrunk the window so it would fit the smaller screen. Then re-copied the whole folder over again. Well, that takes gigs and I thought there had to be a better way.

So I called Apple and although they had other reports of this problem on file, they had never issued a fix that their support people could tell you to do. Sure, you could throw out everything but your iTunes Music folder and then re-import, but you'd lose all your playlists. So Apple escalated me to a level-2 tech and they couldn't fix it either. They sure tried; tossing out and similar files, zapping the PRAM, Safe Booting, all for naught.

While waiting on hold I went back to the old Mac and did the window resize, and then copied everything in the iTunes folder except the actual music files, brought that over to replace the squirrely ones and then just put the music in its place. I launched iTunes, and presto, the new size was remembered and it fit the screen. So the answer was somewhere in that folder. I hoped it wasn't the iTunes Music Library.xml file because I thought that is where the playlists are stored. It turned out to be the iTunes Library.itl file because it was the only other one that seemed to have no other use.

This is important to know because maybe the old Mac no longer runs, although the drive, or a clone backup, is accessible so going back and resizing the window is impossible. I went home to my Mac and tried simply removing that file to see if that is all it would take. Nope, the bad news is the playlists, as well as the entire library index, are stored in that file and not in the iTunes Music Library.xml file as I had thought. Removing that one and not the other makes no apparent change to the iTunes window.

So the bottom line is everything important is stored in that .itl file. Remove it and the window opens to the default size for your screen, but your playlists are gone and the library is empty. Your only option at that point is to choose Add To Library... from the File menu and choose your iTunes Music folder so it can re-index all the music, apps and videos you have in there. Playlists are gone for good.

This is a rare bug because most people rely either on the Migration Assistant or physically copying files from their backup drive. Also, most people seldom move from a big screen to a smaller one. Another fix would be plugging in an external display that's big enough to show the large iTunes window and then resizing it. This bug also reappears if you have the window sized to fit your big display and then unplug it to view the laptop screen alone.

Every other window resizes itself when you do that, or resizes if you press the green button. Apple could fix this by moving the window-size information to the .plist file in Preferences. I hope they do that in the next update. If you know anyone on the iTunes development team, please forward this story to them.