By Collin Allen

Macworld Roundup

January 11, 2007

So, the iPhone has arrived. Never before on a mobile device have I seen such colorful graphics, beautiful animation, and usable features. If they didn’t already seem last century, Windows Mobile and other smart phone systems really have to catch up to Apple’s designs. The multi-touch interaction looks like it’s done just right, and everything “scrolls like butter,” as Steve said last year. While I was almost sure that Apple wouldn’t create a mobile phone, I knew that if they did, it would put other hardware and software solutions to absolute shame.

While Steve’s keynote answered many of my initial questions, I’m very curious if Apple will allow third parties to develop their own applications and widgets, as they’ve done with Dashboard in Mac OS X. As I live in the midwest, Cingular coverage is next to nil out here, so loading an iPhone optimized version of Skype would be ideal for me. WiFi coverage is better in my area than the average cell signal, making my iPhone almost exclusively 802.11 based – fine by me, as broadband is thankfully plenty fast. With internet access almost anywhere now, third party widgets that access the internet would be so much more popular.

In all seriousness, though, Apple has set the bar for mobile phones so high, and yet they won’t even be shipping the iPhone until June. I do wonder if they will continue to update the iPods, or force users to buy an iPhone to take advantage of all the new features? Rumors have been answered with what looks to be a stellar product, but there are many more questions to come. And, naturally, I want to take the iPhone apart and see what makes it tick.

Also new at Macworld is the tv (that’s Shift-Option-K to make the Apple logo on the Mac, by the way). I was surprised at how much 802.11n was downplayed – it’s a huge factor in the performance of the device, and requires an all-new AirPort Extreme base station, which may soon replace my WRT54G. Apple is really pushing new TV technology, too. My main standard definition TV still only has composite (yellow) video-in, so I’m S.O.L. when it comes to the Apple tv. I’m not about to drop Xbox Media Center any time soon, so I may consider assembling a Front Row/Apple tv skin for XBMC, just to make it more friendly and Mac-like.

The year has just begun, and there’s bound to be all kinds of new goodies in store. Apple really knows how to kick off a year. Start by revolutionizing the mobile phone industry, they maybe move into dual quad-core Macs. Who knows – we may all be typing on multiprocessor and multi-core machines before the end of the year!

Toast 8 Released

January 10, 2007

Today at Macworld, Roxio released an all-new version of Toast Titanium for Mac. Notable features include support for Blu-Ray burning, transferring video from a TiVo to your Mac, spanning data across multiple discs, better DVD handling, audio mixing, and tons more – all in a shiny new interface.

Mac DVD Burner Upgrades

January 1, 2007

Not long ago, a question was asked of me whether or not the Mac Mini could have its stock SuperDrive upgraded to a faster burner. When I was selling mine, I noted that I upgraded the burner to a brand new drive, but never detailed how I researched the upgrade before attempting the switch. Here’s the long and short of doing an upgrade on a Mac which uses a slim optical drive.

Upgrading the DVD burner to a newer model will not only bring shorter burn times, but in the case of my PowerBook and Mac Mini, Dual Layer capabilities. Opening the PowerBook is considerably more complicated than the Mac Mini – some experience working inside laptops will be useful if you intend to crack open an Apple notebook. First, though, you’ll want to make sure a new drive will fit. Finding out which drive your currently own is trivial, thanks to Apple’s System Profiler application. You can launch it either by opening the Apple menu, About This Mac, click “More Info…”, or by opening System Profiler directly in the /Applications/Utilities folder. In both cases, under the Hardware heading, highlight “ATA,” which will list the attached ATA (better known as IDE) devices. Older machines which use IDE hard drives will list a couple devices here, whereas the Intel based Macs will have Serial ATA hard drives and list them separately in their own Serial ATA category. You will want to take note of the optical drive manufacturer, which is most likely one of the following: NEC, Matsushita (a.k.a. Panasonic), Pioneer, Sony, or NEC. The most common manufacturers Apple uses are Panasonic and Pioneer. Note the entire model name and number of the drive, and read on.

While most Macs (and PCs) use slim DVD drives of the same dimensions, double-checking your hardware’s compatibility before jumping into a $100 purchase is certainly a wise choice. (MCE reports that the MacBook Pro 15” and MacBook make use of a non-standard 9.5mm internal SuperDrive). For the Mac Mini in question, the original Apple branded SuperDrive was a Panasonic UJ-846. A little Googling turned up the specifications of it at Panasonic’s site, where they report its height (the most important measure) is 12.7mm. I’m an avid fan of Pioneer’s DVD burners, so I picked out the newest slim drive they offered, the DVR-K06. Again, some searching turned up the specs, and the equal height of 12.7mm. Knowing that both drives are of the same height, the upgrade proceeded as planned.

eBay Tip: Search for DVR-K0*. The * wildcard character allows for both the DVR-K05 and DVR-K06 models to be listed.

Apple added support for the DVR-K06 in 10.4.6. Whichever you choose, rest assured it will be fully supported in all iApps.The DVR-K06 drive I wanted was available from my favorite hardware supplier, NewEgg, so I ordered it and had it a short few days later. They no longer sell any slim, slot-loading drives, so you’ll have to find one elsewhere today. A number of online stores sell them, and eBay is also another great source.

After receiving the new drive, you’ll need to open up your Mac and install it. The Mac Mini has no screws on the outside, and requires – per Apple’s own Service Source documentation – a paint scraper to open the case. For detailed instructions, what could be better than a video? Other World Computing, who also sells Mac-compatible Dual Layer burners, offers a number of great take-apart and drive installation videos in their Tech Center. For PowerBook and other portables, you’ll find the iFixit guides invaluable. Their tutorials are as good, if not better, than Apple’s privvy documentation.

With a new drive installed, you’ll be able to back up huge iTunes and iPhoto libraries, applications, and documents on discs with double the capacity of a standard DVD±R, on the order of 8.5 GB. Hopefully this run-down will give you enough insight and confidence in purchasing a new DVD burner to keep your Mac running like new for a long time to come.

Xdisc: Mac Xbox ISO Utility

December 30, 2006

Often when dealing with Xbox content on the Mac, it’s useful to be able to create a bootable DVD, perhaps of a game or Xbox Dashboard program. While Xbox Media Center doesn’t run well from a DVD, games, utilities, and other programs are designed to be playable from a disc.

The Xbox can’t normally read computer formatted CDs like ISO 9660 and Joliet (XBMC can, though), but to make a bootable disc, it must be of the proper format. Microsoft designed a custom disc format for the Xbox in an attempt to stop piracy and secure the system, however it was quickly reverse engineered to allow for all kinds of uses. Xdisc is an Xbox disc image creator/extractor for Mac OS X, built on top of the open-source extract-xiso utility, which can be compiled for most operating systems. It can build an Xbox ISO file (disc image) from a folder on your computer, or can directly FTP into the Xbox and create an image of a folder or DVD, including games. It can also extract the contents of an Xbox ISO, producing the original files that make up the software. FTP is fully integrated into extract-xiso – and thus Xdisc – making for a great solution that can communicate directly with the Xbox to get the job done.

The author, known as “trackfive,” does not have a personal site that I can find and link to, so I’m hosting a copy of Xdisc 1.01 right here, so you can download away. Also included in the download are several drag-and-drop applets to quickly create and extract XISOs without launching the application and messing with settings.

1/7/2007 Update: Trackfive has also produced some Automator plugins, which allow you to Control-click (right-click) on a folder or file and create or extract the Xbox ISO in one simple step. What could be easier?

Burn Disks from the Terminal

December 24, 2006

While burning a CD image today, I discovered a really quick and easy way to do it from a Terminal window with zero hassle. Without launching Toast, Burn, Disco, or any of the myriad of point-and-click disc burning applications, you can simply type hdiutil burn ~/Desktop/you/disk.dmg. The burn begins immediately, with all default settings set as expected (max burn speed, verify on, etc.) It’s not good looking compared to the alternatives, but memory usage is minimal, and it’s a fast way to dump an image onto a disk if you’re already working in the Terminal, or have a session open.

Aside from burning disks, hdiutil and its sidekick diskutil can do everything Apple’s Disk Utility application can do, thus they have a very robust set of commands to choose from. Together, they can create, mount, and convert disk images, create and rebuild Mac OS X RAIDs, mount and eject physical disks, and even repair permissions. By typing hdiutil of diskutil at the command line, you’ll be presented with the long list of options available for each program. Check them out – you might just find a quick way to automate some of those tasks you do often.