Tag Archives: software

Cult of Mac Doubles Down on MacKeeper Craziness

My once favorite blog, Cult of Mac, has responded to the predictable outcry over its hawking of the extremely controversial MacKeeper software.  Did they respond by actually installing, using and (this is important) trying to uninstall the program?  Nope.  They just did some Google searches and concluded, mostly, that it’s all good.

Except it ain’t.

As I noted before, I’ve never used MacKeeper and I never will.  I don’t need to test my suspicions about it, because the marketing strategy alone (pop-unders, ripe for abuse affiliate program, etc.) tells me all I need to know.

Here’s MacKeeper’s PR manager’s explanation for that strategy:

We believe that we have a great product and we want people to know about it and the only way to do this is to explore every medium of advertisement.

What they want is to make money.  Cash.  Bucks.  A desire they seem to share with Cult of Mac.  If the program is so awesome and this is all about informing the unsuspecting masses that their Macs are in great danger, there would be no need for sketchy marketing and ineffective uninstallers.  It’s not even about whether MacKeeper is good or bad; it’s the way they go about it.

But I don’t really care about MacKeeper.

What I care about is the fact that I can no longer trust Cult of Mac.  If I have to wonder whether every app or service I read about on Cult of Mac is a great benefit or disguised malware, Cult of Mac is useless to me.  If Cult of Mac’s response to that question is a Google search and some second hand anecdotal gibberish, in lieu of first hand analysis, then it’s not just useless- it’s dangerous.

I hope Cult of Mac made a butt load of money selling MacKeeper to its readers.  Because they paid a big price in the process.

 

How Cult of Mac Went From the Top of My Reading List to the Bottom in a Single Post

It would be hard to overstate how much I have historically liked the website/blog Cult of Mac.  Simply stated, I have long felt it was the single best source for Apple-related news, reviews and videos.  I usually read it first when I open up Google Reader to consume my news of the day.

Until this week, when I saw a post entitled MacKeeper is 911 for Your Mac.

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Until that moment, I assumed Cult of Mac was a clearinghouse of sorts with respect to all of the things (apps, websites, etc.) that apear in its stories.  The inescapable problem with the above post is that a lot of people- and I mean a whole lot of people- not only disagree that MacKeeper is a good app, they think it is somewhere between unnecessary and nefarious.  Need some examples?  Here’s a thread from today on the Apple Support Community message boards (the first stop for Apple-related questions and troubleshooting).  This is not an isolated response, and it’s not limited to the Apple Support Community.  Here’s a page that goes to great lengths to warn users away.

The comments to the post as well as on Cult of Mac’s Facebook page evidence the controversy.

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A couple of important things, in the interest of fairness.  One, Cult of Mac is not alone in recommending MacKeeper.  Two, I have never tried MacKeeper, and have no first hand knowledge of whether it is the greatest thing ever, the worst thing ever, or somewhere in between.  My problem with Cult of Mac is simply this: if you are the premier source for Mac news, you simply cannot toss up a post recommending MacKeeper (or any other controversial app) without addressing the significant anti-MacKeeper sentiment that pervades the internets.  Especially when readers might think (rightly or wrongly- I have no idea) that you are getting a cut of sales driven by said post.

If MacKeeper is wrongly maligned by these other websites, then gut it up and tell the readers why.  Debunk the criticisms, but don’t just willy nilly recommend the app, without comment.  Users at least need to know there is a vigorous opposing view.  I would like to be able to trust any app I see recommended on Cult of Mac, but if they don’t want to do the work to give us the full story, I can’t and won’t do that.

Microsoft Store: Moving at the Speed of a Glacier

image My kids are starting to compete for computer time on their shared computer, so I decided to revive the old but still very functional HP Laptop I used to experiment with Ubuntu (verdict: beautiful GUI made useless by a complete inability to configure a wireless card).  Since I wiped the hard drive, I needed to do a clean install of Windows. Having somewhat of a current software obsession, I decided to part with $216.49 to buy a Windows 7 Home Premium license.

All of this happened on Saturday, so I thought I’d save some time and buy this license at the online Microsoft Store.  Did I say this was Saturday?  Three long days ago?

After completing my purchase, I watched my inbox eagerly for my confirmation and Product Key.  I watched.  And watched.  And watched.

Then I decided to go on living my life, and forgot about the whole thing.

Until today, when I got that email, with the confirmation.  And the Product Key.  That’s 3 days.  72 hours.  4,320 minutes.  259,200 seconds.

Which is about 259,170 seconds longer than it should have taken.

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In this real-time world where speed is measured in seconds, isn’t it crazy that an online purchase from Microsoft, of all companies, takes 3 days to complete!?

It would have been faster to have it delivered by pony express.  Or on a glacier.

Windows Live Movie Maker: An Often Overlooked Gem

I, along with many others, constantly rave about Windows Live Writer.  It is probably my favorite current application.  I could easily give another sermon about it.

But not tonight.  Rather, I’m going to talk about Live Writer’s often-overlooked Microsoft Live Essentials suitemate: Windows Live Movie Maker.  It’s free, it’s relatively powerful, and it makes great videos.

I use it mostly for creating slideshows- a series of photos set to music.  Here’s how I made a pretty cool little video of some old photos of my parents and some of their friends.  In less than 10 minutes.

Step 1: Drag and Drop Photos

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Open the application, click on the “Add videos and photos” button and drag and drop photos into the space on the right.  I grabbed photos from a folder in my Pictures Library called Old Prints.

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Step 2: Add Music

Next, click on the “Add music” button, navigate to an MP3 you want to use and click on it.  I chose one of my favorite songs, Valse de Grand Pere, by the Bluerunners, from their excellent LP Honey Slides (purchase @ Amazon; Lala link).  The green band above the photos tells you there is audio associated with the movie project.

You’ll want to pick a song with a length consistent with the duration you want for each photograph.  For example, if you have 50 photos and you want each photo to be on-screen for 5 seconds, you’ll want a song that lasts around 4:10 (50×5=250; 250 seconds=4:10).

Step 3: Fit to Music

Next, click on the “Fit to music” button, which will automatically configure your movie length to equal the length of the song you added.

Step 4: Make Your Movie, Automatically

Next, click on the “AutoMovie” button, which will immediately and automatically add a title, cross-fade transitions between photos, and pan and zoom effects.

Step 5: Customize Your Titles

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Click on the first and last slides, and replace the default text with the text of your choice.  You can add nifty text effects via the “Text Tools” tab.

Step 6: Choose Your Format

From the “Home” window, select your format via the “Sharing” box at the top.  I wanted an HD movie, so I clicked on the TV icon (which is the HD option), named my video file and, presto, an HD Windows media file is quickly rendered.

There is also an option to upload directly to YouTube or to burn a DVD.

Step 7: Upload and Enjoy

 

That’s all there is to it.  Not a bad way to spend 10 minutes.

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Open Office

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Everybody’s talking about the office suite for the next decade.  Microsoft Office 2010 is in beta.  Google is waging a vaporware offensive, trying to convince people that it is about to engage in some much needed alchemy with Google Docs.  Meanwhile, Open Office just plugs along.  Being just as free as Google Docs, and, at least, just about as good as the ever-bloating Microsoft Office suite.

I’m all about free, and I live in the cloud.  There are free and cloudy apps for just about everything.  But the choices for word processing applications are slim, which is odd given that today’s computers are the offspring of yesterday’s typewriters.  But fear not.  Here’s the bottom line on office suites, with an emphasis on word processors.

Google Docs

I have moved my email and calendaring activity to Google Apps, via the standard (e.g., free) version.  With Better Gmail 2, Gmail is a great, free and accessible email application.  Google Calendar is far superior to the calendar in Microsoft Outlook.  On the other hand, Google Docs, Google’s word processing app, is- to be kind- not ready for prime time.  Sure, it’s fine for a light home user who wants to write a letter every now and then.  But to try to use it for business purposes is to submit yourself to a digital hell.  Among the multitude of problems:  no tracked changes feature, which is an absolute must for business users; and formatting chaos when you upload a formatted Word document.  In sum, it’s a non-starter.  Google wants us to believe that this will all change.  In the meantime, though, we have work to do.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft has a deep and valuable franchise in the corporate world.  One that became a virtual, if not actual, monopoly when WordPerfect committed suicide at the hands of Novell and Corel.  IT managers know Word.  More importantly, secretaries and administrative personnel know Word.  To monkey around with the status quo on the corporate desktop is to move a whole lot of cheese.  In sum, inefficiency and rebellion would result.

Nevertheless, Microsoft is trying to open the door for a competitor.  No one- and I mean no one- in a corporate office wants the menu structure he or she has used for years to be replaced by some confusing ribbon or whatnot.  As Microsoft continues to force old dogs to learn new tricks, the remote odds of meaningful corporate word processing competition get less remote.  The name of the game in 2010 will be simple and easy.  Not bloated and complicated.

All of which favors the other alternatives.

In fact, for purely home users, I can’t think of a single reason to pay for Microsoft Office.  Fortunately for Microsoft, however, most home users require the ability to open, read and edit work-related documents from time to time.  Documents that were almost certainly created in Microsoft Word.  I certainly do, and that has complicated my effort to go completely free and cloudy for word processing.

Open Office

So I find myself uninterested in paying for Microsoft Office and unwilling to put myself through the agony of using Google Docs as my exclusive word processing app.  Until recently, Open Office was sort of like Bigfoot.  I’d heard of it.  Maybe I’d seen a purported picture or two, but I was still a little scared of it.  Recently, however, my dilemma caused me to read up a little more on it.  Then I took a deep breath, downloaded it, and gave it a spin.

And was pretty impressed.

It feels like a slightly stripped down version of Microsoft Word.  It opens Word documents without destroying them.  There is a way to show and review document revisions.  Shoot, it saves documents in Word format.  There’s even a plug-in that lets me open from and save to Google Docs.

All the votes aren’t in yet, but I’m about ready to call Open Office a winner.

Compute Easily and Cheaply With Cloudy, Free Software Alternatives

My computer was getting a little long in the tooth, so when Windows 7 was released, I decided to buy a new one.  I also decided, following my earlier move to Google Apps, to create my application toolbox with as many cloud applications and free software alternatives as reasonably possible.  Here’s what I did, for those who want to simplify their computer toolbox and put some extra money in their pockets.

The Computer

image I bought an HP Pavilion Elite e9280t.  I’ve had good luck with HP computers, both laptops and desktops, so I decided to stay with what was working.  Plus, it seems to me that you get more bang for your buck from HP than other PC makers.  I went with the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional, because it will give the computer a longer lifespan and I’ve only rarely had problems getting my software and hardware to work under the 64-bit versions.  I also bought 9GB of RAM, because I do a fair amount of video editing and music mixing and the extra memory will make the computer faster at that sort of resource intensive activity.

When the computer arrived, the first thing I did was to remove the bloatware.  HP has gotten a lot better about bloatware, but there is still some clean up required.  I would rather bathe in computer viruses than use anything Symantec/Norton related, so I immediately uninstalled Norton Internet Security and Norton Online Backup.  Rather, I’ll use the free Microsoft Security Essentials and my HP MediaSmart server.  I was a beta tester for Microsoft Security Essentials, and I think it works very well.  Plus, it’s free.  I deleted the screen litter for eBay (which I use, but I don’t need a shortcut on my desktop), and the various online services.  Finally, I deleted all those HP games.  It’s absurd that HP makes you manually check every one separately during the uninstall process.  I interpret that to mean that some of these game developers are paying HP to pre-install this junk.  Regardless, they’re gone.

My Data

Next, I copied over the data I need from my old computer, via an HP Personal Media Drive.  Photos, MP3s, videos, in process song mixes, and some, but not all, of decades worth of Word files I have accumulated.  My new documents are created via Google Docs, but I have some old documents I want to save, just in case.  I like the Libraries feature in Windows 7, which basically lets you use multiple folders for your music, photos, etc.

I saved my old Outlook emails, now uploaded to Gmail, as PST files, and copied them to my new computer’s “Old Files” Library, just in case.

Software and Applications

Now for the fun part.  Here’s what I elected to use in lieu of software I used to pay for.

My first download, of course, was Firefox.  A quick install of Xmarks allowed me to import my bookmarks.  I’m trying to go relatively light on add-ons.  So far I have installed the mandatory Adblock Plus, Better Gmail 2, PhotoBucket Uploader, Read it Later and Xmarks.  All of the foregoing are free.

No more Microsoft Office.  I now use Google Apps (the “standard” or free version) for my email, calendar and documents.  The Gmail interface, with (but not without) Better Gmail 2 is an excellent email application.  Google Calendar is far superior to the Outlook calendar.  And of course, I can now access all of my data from almost anywhere.  And, again, for free.

For my task list, I use Remember the Milk.  It works flawlessly within Gmail and Google calendar via a gadget.  I have a premium account, but there is a free version.

Next, I installed my beloved Windows Live Writer, for blog posts.  Yep, free.

In lieu of the bloated Nero, I installed CDBurnerXP.  It works great, and it costs nada.

For photo management, I couldn’t decide between Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery.  So installed both.  Both are free.

Photo editing may be a challenge.  I use Picnik for basic (read easy) photo editing.  I may try Gimp as a Photoshop replacement, but I am a long-time Photoshop user, and I have a license already.  So at the end of the day the one expensive software program that finds its way only my computer may be Photoshop.  We’ll see.  If anyone has a recommendation, please send it along via a Comment.

For video editing, I installed Windows Live Movie Maker.  I’m a long-time Ulead VideoStudio fan.  Corel bought it, though, so it’s only a matter of time until it dies a painful, bloated death.  Since I have a license for the current version (VSX2), I may install it on my new computer.  I doubt, however, that I’ll buy any upgrades.  Hopefully, Windows Live Movie Maker or some other free or open source program will work for the long haul.  If anyone has a recommend
at
ion, please send it along via a Comment.

image Of course, I installed Evernote.  I am a huge Evernote fan, but the developers’ failure to add folders- or to even respond to my repeated inquiries about the possibility- are dampening my devotion.  Either they need to listen to my good advice or I need to move on.  Let me take a moment to digress.  I have written about issues with HP and Microsoft products in blog posts, and been contacted within hours with offers of help or information.  I have written to Evernote at least twice and asked about the plans, or lack thereof, for folders, and have never received a reply.  That is simply bad customer management.  For now, there are no better alternatives, but at some point there may be.   We’ll see, but for now, Evernote remains one of my most used apps.

For FTP, I use FileZilla, which is free and superior to every paid app I have ever tried.

For radio, I use Pandora and Slacker Radio.

Web site development and HTML editing proved to be a problem.  I installed the free and wonderful Notepad++, which is great for text editing.  I read good things about WYSIWYG editor KompoZer, but I hated the way it reformatted the text in my HTML files when I opened them.  I uninstalled it immediately.  I may not need a WYSIWYG editor, but if I do, I don’t know of a free and powerful option.

The Cloud

For backups and large data storage and redundancy, I use my HP MediaSmart server.  While I was immensely frustrated with my old server, the newer models have more memory and a much better GUI.  I love the media collector feature, that automatically grabs media files from the various network computers, backs them up and allows network access to them.  While I have not done it, you can easily configure your server to allow remote access over the internet.  There’s even an iPhone app.

image For general cloud cover, I use Dropbox for most of my needs.  I also have a Box.Net and a DivShare account that I use from time to time.  If today’s Google news is any indication, all of our cloud needs may eventually float over to Google.  I want GDrive and I want it bad.

For online photos, I use Flickr for my family photos, etc., PhotoBucket for other image files I want to save, and Picasa for reference-related graphics (e.g., maps, reference cards, etc.).  For online videos, I use YouTube, Qik and Vimeo.  All are free, though I pay for a Vimeo premium account so I can upload larger, HD videos.

And of course, I share certain things with friends via Facebook and Twitter.  Both free.

The Result

I have a lean, mean new computer with mostly free, web accessible, organized applications.  It feels really good- and the change in my pocket jingles when I surf.

Going All In With Google Apps

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Why I did, and why you should.

Over the last year or so, my resistance to the Borg-like inevitability of Google has proven futile, as I have moved more and more of my online life into Google applications.  First, I started using Google Reader to manage and access my RSS feeds.  I have always used Gmail as a spam filter and a means to access my Newsome.Org email online and via my iPhone.  I have used Google Docs for podcast and church-related stuff.

But a couple of weeks ago, I went all in.

The cost of upgrading Microsoft Office, my pending move to Windows 7 via a new HP Computer that is frustratingly delayed, and the convenience of one-stop, online accessible apps got me thinking about moving me and my entire family to Google Apps.  I took the plunge, and boy am I glad I did.  There are some gaping holes in the Google Apps experience (more on that below), but there are also many elegant, useful features that I wasn’t aware of until I started to enjoy them.

Making the Move

I have used my Newsome.Org email address, on a dedicated server, for many, many years.  I knew changing to a Gmail address was not an option.  I wanted to keep my email address, as well as my massive set of personal folders and all the emails and data therein.  So the only- and best- option was to move my Newsome.Org email services to Google Apps.  Additionally, the move to Google Apps allows you to create a custom calendar site (e.g., calendar.yourdomain.com), a custom Google Docs site (e.g., docs.yourdomain.com), a shared Contacts site (e.g., contacts.yourdomain.com) and more.

Best of all, it’s free.

And, believe it or not, really easy.

Rather than recreate the wheel here, I’ll direct you to Mark O’Neill’s excellent walk-through.  Changing the MX records for my domain was really easy via Network Solutions’ Domains Management page (don’t forget the period at the end of the hostnames ).

And unlike in years past, the changes propagate pretty fast, sometimes within minutes.  After I had my mail page set up, I used a similar process to create CName records for my calendar, contacts, Google Docs, and even a short links (Google Short Links) and discussion board (Google Moderator) service.

Note than none of this affects your web site, as you do not modify the www, @none or *(all others) settings.  Any host (e.g., www) other than the ones you specifically change as set forth above will continue to point to their current locations.

After maybe an hour’s work, I had dedicated, Newsome.Org-branded and web accessible email, calendar, documents and contacts pages for myself and my entire family.

Email

The first thing I did was to create and upload a Newsome.Org Web Apps logo (see above and below) and customize a theme to match the Newsome.Org color scheme.  One annoyance that Google should address is that your custom theme only applies to Gmail.  There should be a way to cause your theme or custom color scheme to apply across all the various apps.  The custom logo appears in all the Google Apps.

As a Firefox user, the next thing I did was install the most excellent Better Gmail add-on.  Among many other indispensible features, this add-on lets you create labels- Gmail’s folder-substitute- in a nested tree structure, like folders and sub-folders.  Since I want to keep my Outlook personal folders, this was a huge help.  It also allows you to hide the Chat box and other screen wasting stuff.  Then I used Google’s Gmail Uploader app to upload my 10 or so years worth of personal folders.  I was worried that 10 years of emails would use most of my allocated 7 GB of storage, but happily it only took 472 MB!  In a few minutes, I had recreated my personal folders, as well as the primary labels (e.g., folders) I use for email and efficiency management.

Note how the Archive Songs folder expands when I click on it.  I also added POP access or forward rules (on those third party email apps, like Yahoo, that don’t allow free POP access) to capture my old AOL, Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo email.  I have a filter set up to archive (e.g., move from my Inbox to the designated folder) that third party email as it arrived.

Next, I went to the Settings tab and added Quick Links (a way to create and save email searches, such as Unread or ones with certain attachments), the Google Calendar gadget, the Remember the Milk gadget (via the Add Any Gadget by URL feature under the Labs tab), and the Google Docs gadget.  Now, I can access everything I need.

Note how elegantly the calendar is incorporated into the Gmail sidebar.  I mentioned above that there are a lot of unexpected features.  One great example is that when you get an email with an address in it, a link to a Google Map appears.  Little things like that make the online world go around.

Calendar

I also moved my calendar to Google Calendar.  Via the Settings tab, I added some gadgets (World Clock and Jump to Date).  I gave and got access to Raina’s calendar, and I added US holidays, weather and phases of the moon.

In order to create a centralized calendar, I synch my Office calendar with my Google Calendar via Google Calendar Synch.

Via the Settings tab, you can configure Google calendar to email you an agenda each morning and to notify you via text message and/or email prior to each calendar event.  Again, this sort of small, but immensely helpful, feature is what makes these apps so compelling.

Documents

I uploaded my personal letterhead, a few forms I use a lot and some other key documents to my new, Newsome.Org-branded Google Docs page.

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Google Docs is probably the weakest link in the application group, if only because word processing is so important in the business world.  Tables and complex formatting in Word documents can be lost on the upload.  And the addition of a tracked changes feature (or a close equivalent) should be job one for Google if it really wants businesses to use Google Apps.  But, warts and all, Google Docs works well enough for me to dump Microsoft Office.  I can’t believe I just typed that- but it’s true.

I don’t think Google Docs is the best choice for archiving old documents, pdfs, etc. (though implementation of the oft-rumored GDrive would be a welcome addition).  For that I use my other favorite (and free) app- Dropbox (sign up here and we both get extra free space).  I happily pay for the premium 50 GB Dropbox plan, which gives me plenty of space for document archives, etc.

Contacts

As I have noted before, Google Contacts is a train wreck, that should be completely rewritten.  In the meantime, however, consolidation trumps design, and I imported all of my contacts to Google Contacts.

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Online Utopia?

At the end of the process, my entire family has easy, accessible and efficient email, calendar, documents and contacts, all consolidated and branded.  It works really well.

But it could be better.

The individual apps still seem too much like individual applications tossed together, as opposed to an integrated suite of apps.  The ability to customize the look and feel of the apps should apply uniformly throughout.  Some of the apps, in particular Gmail, need to give us much more control over sidebar content, without the need for browser add-ons.  I don’t want the Chat box, but I do want customized links to my Dropbox and other sites I use a lot.

Google Sites is a really crappy, impossible to use, app.  Google Moderator is only marginally better.

Picasa should be integrated into Google Apps, and certainly Google Voice should be.  I’d like to see Google Reader integrated as well.  There should be a way to create personalized, private and integrated Google Groups.  Google Docs needs either GDrive to launch, or the ability to integrate another online storage service into Google Docs for document storage and retrieval.

In sum, Google Apps aren’t perfect.  But with a tweak here and there, they could be.