By Collin Allen

Summer Mac Updates

August 9, 2007

It’s about time Apple updated the iMac, iLife, and the Mac mini. We’ve all been expecting updates of the latter two for some time now, wondering if refreshes were simply delayed or products were about to be cut from the lineup. Thankfully, Apple was just polishing up the glass on the iMacs and dotting the ‘i’s on iLife and iWork, readying all of it for one well rounded Mac-centric update. With all the talk about iPhones, iPods, and multi-touch this and that, it’s great to see Apple back in full swing with Mac stuff again.

iMacs: Aluminum & Glass

The new “Aluminum and Glass” iMacs look quite good, and as Jason Fried noted, are taking on the iPhone look. (As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not yet sold on glossy screens, as I’m already picky enough about fingerprints on my display. Apple seems to be taking the glossy screens to every Mac they make, so I’ll have to get used to them at some point!) I’m also glad to see a CTO 2.8 GHz option, as well as 1 TB of storage. Packing that much data into one machine is still rather mind boggling; I remember owning an external 9 GB SCSI-2 hard drive back in the day and thinking I was hot stuff. Now we can lug around 100 times that data in half the space.


Apple continues to innovate on the professional front, and not long after making some big advances, some of the technology filters down into the consumer level products. One such advancement is Events in iPhoto. When you take photos and later download them into your Mac, photos are grouped into the identifiable chunks of time in which you took each subset. It automatically sifts through all the images and sorts them appropriately. Sometimes it’s off a little bit, but correcting it is just a few clicks away.

Mac Mini

Some suspected the Mac Mini was on the chopping block at Apple – it’s clear that Steve doesn’t care for the required cables – but it did receive a much needed Core 2 Duo and Gigabit Ethernet update. With the addition of Gigabit, I can now truly consider replacing my G4 home server with a less power hungry Mac Mini. (In addition to the Mac Mini, the iMac and the AirPort Extreme got Gigabit as well.)

Overall, a great summer consumer Mac update from Apple just in time for “back to school.” Be sure to grab the iWork ‘08 trial if you haven’t placed your order already.

iPod, iPhone, and AppleTV Video Guide

July 14, 2007

iLounge just posted an outstanding guideto the formats used by Apple’s video-capable portable devices, including the iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV. While QuickTime Player Pro does a decent job of doing simple exports, it’s great to understand the details behind the scenes, including video aspect ratios and bitrates. If you own one or more of these devices and plan on converting video for them, this guide is a must-read!

Back to Boot Camp

July 10, 2007

After getting used to working with Boot Camp on my new Intel Mac, I decided to borrow the second partition for a few days to dual boot two copies of Mac OS X (which worked flawlessly, by the way). Once I was done, I assumed I could pop in my Windows disc and do a clean format-and-install over the second Mac OS X partition. Boy, was I wrong.

Windows Setup displayed only one “partition” as it saw things – the entire 160 GB drive. Not wanting to blow away my entire main Mac OS X installation, I was unsure of how to get back to using Boot Camp normally. Launching Apple’s Boot Camp Assistant utility presented me with unhelpful messages such as “The startup disk must be formatted as a single Mac OS Extended (Journaled) volume or already partitioned by BCA for installing Windows” and “This startup disk is not supported.” What to do?

One fact I was sure of was that I did indeed have two real partitions on my hard drive. Disk Utility clearly showed two partitions under my single drive hardware device. Both partitions were formatted as Mac OS Extended Journalled (HFS+J) volumes, but Windows refused to see them as individual partitions, perhaps because it only comprehends the Microsoft-standard FAT32 and NTFS formats. Hoping to fix the matter, I used the diskutil command line tool to format the second partitions as “MS-DOS FAT32”, even though the Disk Utility point-and-click interface only offered HFS+ and HFS+J in its Format menu. diskutil noted that, because I was booted off the drive, the resulting partition would not be bootable.

diskutil’s note about bootable volumes gave me an idea – boot from the Mac OS X Installation DVD and see what tools are available there. Upon booting the DVD that shipped with my machine and choosing English as my main lanugage, I found the Utilities menu at the top of the Installer. In there was a launchable copy of Disk Utility – the very same tool found in your /Applications/Utilities folder. It listed many more formats under the Erase tab for the second Boot Camp partition, and I happily formatted it as “MS-DOS”, knowing it would leave me with one HFS+J partition and one FAT32 partition. Erase and format was successful, so I rebooted and held down Option to force the OS selection screen to appear. [At this point I checked and found that, yes, Boot Camp Assistant will rediscover your partition and prompt you with the usual options. It must simply check for the existence of a FAT32 or NTFS volume to run properly.] I discovered moments later that it’s possible eject and insert disks while at this screen, so I popped in my Windows XP CD and let Setup begin once more. This time, Setup listed the following partitions:

E: Partition1 [Unknown] 200 MB (EFI)
F: Partition2 [Unknown] 133120 MB (Note: this is the main Mac partition)
Unpartitioned space 128 MB
C: Partition3 (WINDOWS) [FAT32] 19052 MB
Unpartitioned space 126 MB

The C: FAT32 formatted partition was approximately the correct size, so I figured it had to be the correct choice. FAT32 can be limiting in file size, but Windows was able to easily re-format the partition to NTFS on the spot (Quick format is much faster than a full format). After babysitting the Windows installer for the next 30 to 40 minutes, everything was working again in Boot Camp land. Holding Option at startup is back to presenting the usual Macintosh HD and Windows operating systems, and booting into Windows is fast as it ever was.

Marware Protection Pack for MBP

June 28, 2007

Having sold my PowerBook for a little less than I was hoping for, presumably due to the wear on the palm rest, I decided to take some precautions with my new Mac. Shortly after ordering the machine, I also purchased the Marware Protection Pack for the MacBook Pro. The one piece of the kit I was most interested in was the palm rest cover, made of a gray, rubbery-leathery material with just the right texture.

Applying the palm rest cover wasn’t too hard, but took some nudging to work out a few small air pockets that developed. Overall, I’m quite pleased with the feel of my new palm rest, and can work without worry that every minute the metal finish may be degrading under my wrists. Small bubbles aside, the only real drawback was that the display no longer closed easily, despite the advertisement that the cover didn’t interfere with the latch mechanism. I debated removing the palm rest cover altogether, but instead I looked more closely and saw that the small rubber nubs on the lid of the display were keeping the latch at too great a distance from the hook in the base. After peeling up the corner of the cover, I cut off two iny triangles, as seen at right. The display now closes as easily as before the cover was applied.

Overall, the kit is a nice improvement with a few little hangups, but it should really pay off in about three or four years when my palm rest is still in great condition!

MacBook Pro is Here!

June 17, 2007

I sold me PowerBook G4, and my new Santa Rosa based MacBook Pro arrived Friday from Shanghai via FedEx. It’s almost identical to my previous machine, except for the display and insides, of course. The new LED backlit display is pixel perfect and very evenly lit, while the Intel CPU is proving plenty capable.

Overall, I couldn’t be more pleased with the new Mac. With any luck, the palm rest won’t wear away as badly as the one on my PowerBook.

Update: After owning my MacBook Pro for only a day, I noticed a small but annoying problem: The spacebar squeaked when tapped just below the division between the ‘b’ and ‘n’ keys. I really wouldn’t have worried about it, except that’s where I tap the key almost every time. Since AppleCare comes standard with all Apple hardware (and I also opted for the 3-year extension), I called up Apple support. After some initial shoulder shrugging on their part, they agreed to have a look at the issue. This was Saturday afternoon. Monday morning, a box was at my door. By Friday, the MacBook Pro had gotten to Apple, been diagnosed, a new keyboard installed, and made it back to my door. A five day turnaround – not bad at all. Like the blinking orange-green troubles I had with my original iPod Shuffle, Apple came through with outstanding support.