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Experiences with Mac OS X Lion

It's only been a few days since I installed Mac OS X 10.7.  I installed it on the iMac and my wife's MacBook.  These are the only two computers in the house capable of running the new OS.  My vintage G4 Mac mini is stuck running Leopard and my MacBook — my first Intel Mac — does not have the CPU chops to run Lion.

The installation went out smoothly.  I tossed caution to the wind and installed directly from the Mac App Store.  There was much discussion on Google+ about clean installs versus upgrade — I think those people are Windows switchers — but none of the arguments given were compelling enough for me to spend the extra time to re-image my Mac and re-install all my apps.  It took about twenty minutes to download the installer over my 20Mb/s Comcast broadband connection.  Once the download completes the user gets a message that OS X is being installed.  This is actually not quite true.  I think what is being installed is the installer itself.  This part took just a few minutes before the machine reboots and the real install begins.  During the second "install" my screen went blank and I was left with a very sick feeling in my stomach.  Was my machine hosed? I waited over forty minutes before the blank screen disappeared and I was presented with the new login screen.  Apple could have done a better job keeping the user informed.  I could imagine a lot of less trusting geeks who might have reset the machine at that point, possibly hosing their machines.

Some others suggested that I create a bootable USB image to make it easier to restore or install Lion on other Macs. The thought process is that since Lion is a download only install, a full restore would require first installing Snow Leopard. However, I found that downloading and installing from the Mac App Store to be fast and Apple is offering full restore of Mac OS X Lion over the Internet.

**Multi-Touch Gestures**

The first thing I did once I logged in was launch Safari. It's the app I use the most on my Mac — on any computer, really. I logged into Google+ — now my favorite social network — and immediately ran into an issue. Swiping down on MagicMouse caused the web page to scroll up. At first I thought the mouse was bad then I remembered that Lion included some features borrowed from iOS, notably, multi-touch gestures. On an iPad or iPhone, swiping left takes the user to the next page of a book or the next screen of apps, while swiping up on the touch screen move the page down. This feels natural — this is precisely what Apple calls the new scrolling behavior in Lion — on a touch screen but goes against years of user training. I welcome the change — I bought a MagicPad in anticipation of this — but I think Apple should have kept the default and expected user behavior. I'm keep the natural behavior switch on for a few weeks to see how I like it. If it gets too annoying I'll switch it off. Choice is wonderful.

**Full-Screen Apps**

It took me a second to understand how to enable the use of full screen for apps and almost two days to figure out how to turn it off but I love the feature. I had already been running most of my apps in full screen mode using an app called Moom which I bought on the Mac App Store. I've noticed that neither the OS X menu bar not the dock is available while using full screen mode. This makes sense when one thinks about how a user experiences iOS apps. It also helps create a more distraction free working environment — this is something I've wanted for some time. I can use Command-Tab to switch between apps or double tap two fingers on the MagicMouse to bring up Mission Command or swipe up with four fingers on the MagicPad. One thing I noticed is that full screen apps appear to be running in separate virtual desktops. Using the Terminal app in full screen mode is the highlight of my experience.

**Mission Control**

One of the cool features of OS X that I lost when I switched to a button less MagicMouse was the ability to click two buttons to bring up Expose. I used Expose to fast switch between apps. Lion's Mission Control allows me use either my MagicPad or MagicMouse to switch between apps — two taps on the MagicMouse or a four finger swipe on the MagicPad. This is much faster and more elegant method of switching between apps than Command-Tab. No need to take my hands off the mouse.


I'm really loving the new Mail app. So much so that it has replaced Sparrow as my default mail app. While I loved the simplicity of the Sparrow mail client its lack of Exchange support was impacting my workflow. On a day-to-day basis Sparrow worked well for reading from my Gmail accounts but when I connected to the office VPN from my Mac I was back in Mail. With the new I no longer have to choose. I find the new Mail interface a pleasure to use and the threaded conversation windows brings it home for me. At a glance I can see the responses to an original message each in its own little box. will save me from corporate email hell.

**Resume, Autosave and Versions**

I have only seen this in action when using Safari. Web sites that were open when I exited the browser are reopened on the next launch. Apps will have to be written to take advantage of these features but I for one can't wait — especially for autosave. While writing this blog posting in MarsEdit I accidentally deleted some of the text I wrote earlier and could not undo my mistake. If MarsEdit used Autosave and Versions I could have recovered from my mistake by reverting to an earlier version of my work.

**Less obvious features**

Apple claims that Mac OS X has over 250 new features. I clicked around trying to discovers some of them since I couldn't find a complete list on Apple's website. I noticed that OS X Lion has borrowed from iOS in other ways. While typing this post OS X Lion suggested corrections to my spelling mistakes as I was typing. Just like in iOS the suggested text would pop-up just above the current text and I could hit the space bar to accept the suggestion. There are some changes to the AirPort Utility. I have a 500GB Time Capsule which I use with Time Machine for backing up my wife's MacBook. Apple made a small change to the AirPort Utility which allows the user to archive the contents of the Time Capsule hard drive to an external drive connected via USB. I can back up my backup.

I'm still poking around and discovering the nuances of the OS and I'll post my thoughts and experiences.  I will also be posting more in depth "reviews" and updated how-to articles (with screen shots) over on my tech blog.

Wait a minute ... backup!


Recent blog posts by web developer/designer Chris Bowler and photographer François Arnold started me thinking about my own computer backup strategy.  I would like to think I've developed a reliable and workable system over the years but on inspection I think have a few gaps.

Chris's blog posting is about how he uses Time Machine as part of his backup strategy.  He also compares his strategy to that of others.

My own process is similar, making use of a 1 TB external drive for weekly clones of my hard drive and video storage, a 750 GB external drive for Time Machine backups, a 120 GB external drive for monthly clones of my hard drive, and Dropbox for everything that is important (even my music and photos).1

François on the other hand focuses on creating a detailed backup strategy for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.


As photographers, we mainly want to backup our master files with their editing (so we don’t have to do it all over again) and our catalogs.2

François's strategy starts from the moment he imports his photos into Lightroom which includes choosing the right format to keep his images and edits. François is a Mac user so his strategy also includes Time Machine.

My current strategy is not quite as organised or well thought out as Chris's or François'.

My current backup system involves three external hard drives and a cloud backup service. My Lightroom catalog is kept on one of the external drives; a 1TB G-Drive Q attached to my iMac. My wife prefers iPhoto so I import photos from her iPhone and any images of family. The iPhoto library is kept on the same 1TB drive as the Lightroom catalog. iMovie files are stored here as well. The second external hard drive, a 500GB G-Drive Q attached to the iMac, stores my iTunes library. Some of my important files are stored in the Documents folder on the iMac's 250GB internal drive and some are stored on the 500GB G-Drive Q. I use Dropbox to store my 1Password keychain as well as documents that I've import onto my iPad via GoodReader. These documents might have come to my iPad via Mobile Safari or the Mail app.

The backup process is both automated and manual. I use the Backblaze3 cloud backup service to backup the entire Lightroom catalog, the files stored in the internal Documents folder and the Documents folder on the external 500GB G-Drive Q. The Backblaze agent runs continuously and copies any changed files up to the cloud service. Occasionally — there is no set schedule — I connect a 250GB Seagate FreeAgent drive and run Time Machine to backup. This backups everything except the default exclusions4. I also have a 500GB Time Capsule that I never use. The Time Machine backups were taking too long over Wi-Fi.

After reading Chris' and François' post I realise that I have a gap in my strategy. The first issue is that I only have two copies of my photos and documents. The copy on the external drives and the backups in the cloud (for the photos and documents) and the Seagate drive (for documents). I think a good backup strategy requires at least three copies of important files — the original and two backups — with one of the copes stored off site. The second issue is that I don't have a backup for my iTunes library. All my purchases — movie, music, and apps — are at risk5.

I think I need a new system. I have not bought any equipment yet but I think I have a strategy that will work.

  • Move all important documents — tax paper work, receipts, etc — to the Documents folder on the Mac's internal drive. I'll use TimeMachine Editor to automate the schedule. Continue to backup the iMac via Backblaze but add a twice weekly backup to the FreeAgent via Time Machine. That's one off site backup and one onsite backup.
  • Continue to keep the iTunes library on the 500GB G-Drive Q. There is still the issue of a second and third backup. I could backup to Backblaze but media files tend to be quite large and I'm worried about exceeding my Comcast bandwidth cap.
  • The photo libraries are already being backed-up to Backblaze but as with the iTunes library the second backup is an issue. My Time Capsule does not have enough storage to keep my iTunes library and my very large photo libraries. I could add another FireWire drive to the iMac but I've already got two drives hanging of the back of the thing and the desk could get crowded. The Seagate FreeAgent Drive is too small to hold iTunes and the photo catalog.

I'm not sure what to do about the other backups. I guess I could perform manual backups on a weekly basis to another external drive but I really want an automated solution. I need to do more thinking.

ShareTool - remote access for any Mac application or service that uses Bonjour

When my MobileMe account came up for renewal, I let it expire. I did not need it. I had found cheaper and better alternatives.

When Apple's $99 MobileMe service was released I was quick to register. With MobileMe I could access my mail, contacts, and calendar information in the “cloud” and keep everything in sync across my Macs, my iPod Touch (not iPhone for me as yet), and the web automatically. I could upload my photos to a web gallery and invite my friends and family to view my photo slideshow and download their favorites. iDisk allowed me to store and share files online and access them from another Mac, or from my iPod Touch or from a web browser on any computer. With iDisk Sync, I could keep a copy of my iDisk files on my local hard drive for offline editing and when I reconnected my changes would automatically sync back to my iDisk.

However, when my subscription for MobileMe came up for renewal I let it lapse. Why? I've been using the Google Mail service since it launched in 2004 and with Snow Leopard I am able to sync my Gmail to, my Google Calendar to iCal, and my Google Contacts to AddressBook. I can access these services from any computer with a web browser (I prefer Google Chrome), any Mac on which I have an account, and from my iPod Touch (and iPhone if I had one). All for FREE!

But what about MobileMe's Gallery feature? I've had a Flickr Pro account for a few years. For just $24.95/year, Flickr provides me with unlimited uploads and storage for high-resolution original images and high-definition video. With a free Flickr account, you can upload 2 videos and 100MB worth of photos each calendar month. I can create slideshows, edit my photos, share with friends and family, or link my photos back to my blog. Don't try any of that with MobileMe.

While MobileMe provides 20GB of storage that space is used for all your email, calendar, address book, photos, and files. With my photos hosted on Flick, and my email,calendar and address book safely stored on Google's super reliable "cloud", I found that I did not need much online file storage. I started using Dropbox. Dropbox allows me to sync my files online and across multiple computers (Mac, Linux and Windows) - automatically. The free version provides 2GB of online storage, which is quite sufficient for my needs. Sharing files is simple and Dropbox provides access to my files via any web browser and my iPod Touch. Oh, and it also provides interactive photo galleries.

So, yes, I let my MobileMe account expire. And I did not miss it. My wallet felt a little heavier too. I had saved about $75.

Then a few months later I was working on my brother-in-laws Mac and needed access to files on my Mac mini. Of course, the very files I needed would not be on my Dropbox account. I had no way to access my Mac mini. It was then that I realized how useful MobielMe's "Back to My Mac" feature is.

Back to My Mac puts any Mac OS X Leopard or Snow Leopard Mac you use within easy reach. MobileMe finds your remote Mac computers over the Internet and displays them in the Finder on the Mac you’re using. With Back to My Mac Screen Sharing, you can control your remote Mac as though you’re sitting in front of it.

Fortunately my brother-in-law lives near my home but Back to My Mac would have been more convenient than driving back home, copying the files to the Dropbox folder, and driving back to my brother-in-law's home. I did not like that. I had to find a solution. A few weeks later I discovered an application from YazSoft called ShareTool. ShareTool lets you access all of the Bonjour services on your home network from anywhere. This includes iTunes Music Sharing, Screen Sharing, File Sharing, printing, and more. In effect with ShareTool I can remotely access any Mac service on my home network as though I was physically on the home network.

Screen shot 2009-12-24 at 11.16.12 AM.png

Once installed, ShareTool presents the user with two choices of operation - Connect or Share. The Share options configures a Mac to provide services over the Internet while the Connect options allows the remote Mac to connect to that share node. Click the Share button and ShareTool automatically configures your router and the current Mac with the proper network settings. To connect to a remote host over the Internet from your other Mac you'll need information about the Internet address address and port that the remote ShareTool host is using. Don't worry about writing this down as ShareTool contains a feature that will email this information to you when you setup the "Share". Simply copy that information from the email into the other ShareTool and start working.

Screen shot 2009-12-24 at 11.18.33 AM.png

Screen shot 2009-12-24 at 11.38.20 AM.png ShareTool provides a number of other features to make accessing your Mac over the Internet both easy and secure. You can specify exactly which Bonjour services are available including, iTunes Music Sharing, iPhoto Picture, sharing, Apple File Sharing, Windows file sharing, Screen Sharing, SSH, printing or any other service running on the remote Mac that uses the Bonjour service. I have my HD TiVo set to share files with my Mac via Bonjour. From work I am able to pull up one of my recorded TV shows and watch it during my lunch hour. I'm the paranoid type and allow access to my computer over the open Internet can be scary, so I am happy that ShareTool encrypts it communication using AES-128 bit encryption and uses a unique and randomly generate key each time a connection is created. ShareTool can also be used over a VPN and provides an audit feature so I can see exactly which users are using the service.

When sharing my network I configured ShareTool to send an email with the connection information, automatically update an external DNS service, and auto launch iTunes and iPhoto. From the comfort of my desk I can listen to my entire iTunes library over the Internet. How sweet it is. When connecting to my home network from work ShareTools will show me my home network just as though I was sitting at home. I can see all my Macs in the Finder, connect to them, open and edit files, move, create or delete folder - pretty anything I could do while at home. I am able to connect to my Time Capsule over the Internet and setup Time Machine to use the remote Time Capsule for backup.

Screen shot 2009-12-24 at 12.55.11 PM.png

I am still playing around with ShareTool but I have not discovered any limitations to what I can do over the Internet. The trial copy of ShareTools limits each session to just 15 minutes but this is enough time to discover the true potential of this awesome tool. ShareTool is just $20 for a single license but you can get a discount when additional licenses are purchased.