Saturday, July 6, 2013

July 2013 Update

It's been a while since updating this blog, partly due to recovery from heart surgery in April, and partly because Apple has had no major failures with their software updates.

Speaking of the surgery, I'm about 85% fine now. Taking twice-weekly cardiotherapy at St. Vincent's and getting ever stronger. Been working normal hours since early June. The last 10% takes the longest.

1Password at PMUG Monday

I have written about this password manager before, and encourage anyone plagued with password problems (like forgetting them or losing the paper you wrote them on) or risking security failure by using the same password on all your logins.

So come to the Portland Mac Users Group meeting on Monday, July 8 when member Steve Riggins will demonstrate how to securely manage your passwords, credit cards, software licenses, and other information. We meet at 6:30 for Q&A and the general meeting begins at 7:30. We meet at the Ecotrust Center in NW Portland, 721 NW 9th Ave. Plenty of parking plus bus and streetcar service right to the place. You do not need to be a PMUG member to attend.


The biggest issue for some has been with AppleMail for those who were running Lion 10.7.5 and upgraded to Mountain Lion 10.8. (ML is now at version 10.8.4, which is what will be installed if you are upgrading for the first time now.) It demonstrated crashing, improper mail management and other quirks. It took a reinstallation of ML from the Emergency Repair volume it created from your Mac's internal drive.

There have been updates to Security and Java, which are important. You should always get those. Otherwise, waiting a week after you learn of an update will protect you in case Apple does issue a goofball. That gives me time to find out about it and warn you, and gives them time to discover their error and pull the update.

Other updates include support for iMovie, iDVD and the iWork suite of applications. It's okay to get those. Safari is still suffering from the "Force reload all webpages" bug that has been there since version 5.1. Snow Leopard 10.6.8 users can stop with Safari 5.0.5 and not experience the problem. Lion and later requires 5.1 so you're out of luck.

Most of you will never see the bug; it's triggered if you use the "Open in Tabs" feature, and also keep web pages open and in the Dock for more than a day or two. Unfortunately for me, I use that feature to read my daily web comics, and that opens a window with 21 tabs. Even at a fast (25 Mbps) connection, it takes several minutes for all those pages to load. When it does hit, your only option is force reload or Cancel and quit Safari. Start it up again and most of your pages should come back.

iTunes, naturally, is updated the most frequently, partly to support new features and iOS devices. I did not like the changes introduced in version 10 at first, but I have gotten used to them and now find very few things about it that annoy me. Those of you who don't have pads, pods or iPhones don't need the new version (unless you want to use the movie and TV-rental features) so you can hold out a little longer. Current version is 11.0.4.

The rest of the updates that show up, i.e. RAW Camera Update, Airport Utility, Remote Screen Sharing can be installed, but if you don't specifically need them you can skip. One exception is a class of updates called Firmware Updates. Those reprogram a chip on the logic board ("firmware") and should be installed alone. If you see a firmware update in the list from Software Update, uncheck all the boxes for the other updates and run this. After the restart you can relaunch Software Update and get the rest.

Repair Permissions

Finally, always run Repair Permissions with the Disk Utility app in your Utilities folder. Do this both before and after running the software updates. I wrote the how-to in my November 2011 blog, here:

Dead OS Versions

Tiger 10.4 is long abandoned and Apple does not issue software updates for it any more. But for users of G-Macs (G4, G5) it's the last version that supports Classic OS9. If you still need that to access your oldest application documents, you will want to retire that Mac to a back shelf some day and just use it when needed. If you need to access MacWrite, early Quark XPress and HyperCard files, you need a Mac that can actually run under OS9; not just Classic. The last model capable of that is the white dome G4 iMac with the 15" screen, or the early G4 towers.

Leopard 10.5 is the last version of the OS capable of running on G-Macs with the PowerPC chip. Early Intel Macs could run Tiger (but not Classic) and Leopard. Apple abandoned support for Classic with Leopard. They still issue Security Updates for Leopard but for all intents and purposes, it's dead.

Snow Leopard 10.6 abandoned support for AppleTalk, which killed their workhorse LaserWriter Pro models, but still supported applications written for PowerPC Macs like Quicken 2006, Eudora, AppleWorks and MS Office 2004, among others, by including a block of code called Rosetta. Snow Leopard is still considered current and supported (after a fashion) but will be officially abandoned with the release of OSX 10.9 (called Mavericks - farewell to the cats) this fall.

There is an Excedrin headache plaguing 10.6 users, and me: I can no longer update any old version of 10.6 to the final 10.6.8 using my installers downloaded from Apple. This happened some time after a patch to 10.6.8 was released; there was an update to the updater that would not install unless 10.6.8 was running, but you could not update to 10.6.8 without it. That threw us into the mandatory hands of Software Update and if you had a weak or flakey Internet connection, the 1-Gb download of 10.6.8 would usually fail.

I used to tell people to stay with 10.6.8 forever so they could keep using their old apps, but soon you'll need to relegate your Snow Leopard (or Tiger) Mac to that same back shelf as your old SE-30. It seems that "forever" in computer years is just about five human years.

Lion 10.7 was the biggest change, with the end of Rosetta. If you are still using AppleWorks under 10.6 or older, open up ALL of your .cwk documents and do a SaveAs into either Word (.doc) or text (.txt) formats. AppleWorks is the only program that has NO modern equivalent and there is NO converter available. AppleWorks spreadsheets can be saved as Excel files, and the database info can be exported into tab- or comma-delimited text, readable by some modern database applications.

Mountain Lion 10.8 is current for the rest of the summer; not many apps need upgrading when it came out. Mostly, if it ran under 10.7 it worked under 10.8.

New Macs

If you've been following the Apple news, you've seen that they've upgraded the MacBook Airs, the 13" and 15" MacBook Pros, and announced a radically designed Mac Pro. Be tempted by these models, and the two iMacs that came out a few months ago. The Airs have a new high-efficiency chip that promises even more battery life, as much as 12 hours of gentle (no videos) use for the 13" and 9 hours for the 11" models. Both of them support any size external display and 256 Gb SSD (solid-state drives) so these can serve as your primary Mac. Plug in the external display and you have as much work area as an iMac; unplug it and take all of your files with you. Personally, I would feel chained to my desk if I had an iMac or Mac mini. Even if you seldom take your laptop anywhere, it's nice to be able to. Oh, and the Airs are both $100 cheaper than the previous model (which I have).

The Pro is amazing looking; a black cylinder that resembles a beer cozy for a can of Foster's. Fastest 12-core processor possible, multiple Thunderbolt 2 ports and USB 3; up to 60 (sixty!) Gb internal RAM and the fastest SSD storage on the planet. Load this down with everything and swap your Mercedes for it. Visit the Apple Mac Pro page and just marvel at it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Java, Flash, Mountain Lion and other bugs

Java Vulnerabilities

There are some updates to watch for. Even reaching the mainstream press, the Java bug can affect systems running Snow Leopard (10.6) or later, making the Mac vulnerable to malware that may be encountered on a dodgy web page. It does not affect systems running 10.5 or older. To protect yourself, open Software Update and run any Security Updates and any Java Updates it offers.

Then open Safari's Preferences, Security button, and uncheck the box for Enable Java. You probably won't even miss it as legitimate sites that use it are dwindling in number. Should you visit a trusted site and it wants to use Java, just go back to Preferences, enable Java, then reload the page. Disable it when you are done.

In Chrome, there is no option to enable or disable it. Java version 7 is not compatible with Chrome, so if you have not deliberately installed the older Version 6 there is no Java running in Chrome. To find out how to do this, and read why it isn't a good idea, visit Apple's KB article.

In Firefox, go to the Tools menu and choose Add-Ons. When the window opens click the tab on the left called Plug-Ins. Look for  Java Applet Plug-In in the list and click the Disable button. Reverse the process to enable it.

Flash, too

Another known weakness is in Adobe Flash. Safari disables older versions of it as soon as newer ones are released, so if your web page shows Disabled Plug-in instead of the video page you requested, click on those words to take you to Adobe and download and install the newest version. Systems older than 10.6 can't use the newest version so you may not be able to view some video pages. This is especially true in Tiger 10.4.11 or older. Adobe updates several times a year, so be sure to accept and install those updates. YouTube no longer requires Flash, but an awful lot of sites (such as FailBlog on the Cheezeburger Network) do use it so you can't give it up entirely.

Mountain Lion Crash Bug

There is a strange "Assertion bug" that will crash any app running under OSX 10.8.2. Mail, Safari, Messages, TextEdit, all of them. All you have to do is type File (with a capital F) followed by colon and 3 slashes - :///.

Don't do that. Goes boom every time. If you enjoy the gory details, they are at this CNet page. Some people have suggested it as a Mac Prank by sending the string from the Messages app on any smart phone to a Mac. Not only will it crash the Messages program upon receipt, it's archived so it will re-crash every time it's launched. To clear it out, follow these instructions.

The newest iMacs

I have now had some experience setting up both the 21.5" and the 27" models. As I reported previously, the smaller of the two is seriously constrained by the slow hard drive. However, Apple now offers the option of getting the Fusion drive in that model as well as the 27". If you are interested in that iMac, absolutely spring for the Fusion drive. The technology combines a 1-Tb or larger drive with a 128 Gb Solid State drive. The system software and your most-used applications are located on the SSD part of the system, and relocated to the mechanical part of the drive if you start using a different app more often.

To the user, it all looks like just one drive. You do not have to do anything to manage it. So all that remains as a problem with the new iMacs is the lack of an internal CD/DVD SuperDrive and the lack of a FireWire port. Both Macs have two Thunderbolt ports, so for $29 you can buy a T-Bolt to FireWire adapter and keep using your old external drives. The other port can be used as a video port for a 2nd monitor with a T-Bolt to DVI adapter, but very few Mac users need a second display with such a big screen as their primary.

iTunes 11; Mac Power Users

The newest iTunes is just short of a (needed) complete rewrite of the program. It has taken on so many non-music-related duties over the years that it has become a bloated mess. Unfortunately a few features have not made it into the new version, but overall it is easier to work with once you learn the new ways.

My favorite podcast and web site for all things Mac is called Mac Power Users. It's designed to help people become more proficient, rather than just focusing on the highly experienced. I subscribe to the show through iTunes in the Podcast section, then I put it on the iPod that lives in my car. If you do a lot of driving it's a great way to listen and learn, but there is no reason you can't just play it through your Mac.

The web page that supports the show is here (this episode that focuses on iTunes) and you can get the back catalog on iTunes and the web page for articles that support the information you hear. I highly recommend this show.