App of the Week: Mountain Tweaks

About a year ago, OS X Lion was released for the Mac.  It brought many great features to Lion, some from iOS and some brand new.  However, it changed up a number of things that annoyed some users.  An app called Lion Tweaks, which I reviewed for a previous App of the Week post, was released to help users tweak Lion to their liking.  With the release of Mountain Lion for the Mac, developer Fredrik Wiker has come back to help us tweak.

Mountain Tweaks is a new app that does essentially the same thing as its older brother with a few improvements.  Mountain Tweaks works to be compatible across both Lion and Mountain Lion, making it a one stop shop for Mac users.  Mountain Tweaks is organized into 4 tabs: “General”, “Lion Tweaks”, “Mountain Lion Tweaks”, and “Restore”.  The settings under each tab are as simple as selecting Yes or No under the setting you wish to alter.  The general tab shows several settings that range across multiple versions of OS X.  According to the developer, most of these settings can be used on Leopard (10.5) and Snow Leopard (10.6), as well as Lion and Mountain Lion.  These include settings like enabling a 2D- dock, disabling local Time Machine backups, hiding Spotlight search, and more.  The Lion tab shows items specific to the Lion system such as disabling Auto-Save, enabling Airdrop on old machines, changing the look of Address Book and iCal to aluminum, and more.  The Mountain Lion tab similar changes you can make to Mountain Lion, such as disabling Gatekeeper.  The Restore tab simply is a giant button that allows you to reset all the things you changed through Mountain Tweaks to their original states.

The app states that many of the tweaks available to Lion are also available to Mountain Lion, but only a few work the other way around.  The app has a wide selection of tweaks for Lion and for Mac OS X in general, but there aren’t very many for Mountain Lion at all.  However, Lion Tweaks didn’t have to many either but now has quite a few tricks up its sleeve.  It’s safe to say we can expect the same to come from Mountain Tweaks in future updates.

Mountain Tweaks is available for OS 10.5 and later, though it is best run on OS 10.7 and OS 10.8 (Lion and Mountain Lion respectively).  While it is a free app, the developer does ask for donations if you like the software, which I did.  You can check it at http://tweaksapp.com/app/mountain-tweaks/.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email us at easyosx@live.com.  You can also check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen.  And be sure to check us out on Google Plus.  Thanks!

Apple to Release Mountain Lion Wednesday (and how to prepare):

Mountain Lion is about to be uncaged (Image from apple.com)

In their earnings call today, Apple announced that they will be releasing the next version of OS X, dubbed Mountain Lion, on Wednesday July 25th.  OS 10.8 will be sold in the Mac App Store for $20 (American), though people who have bought Mac’s since June 11th will be given a free update upon request.

In order to run Mountain Lion, your Mac will need to meet the system requirements.  According to Apple, and borrowed from Macworld, these Mac models will support mountain Lion:

  • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
  • iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
  • Xserve (Early 2009)

Apple says you will need at least 2 gigs of RAM (though I advise at least 4 gigs), at least 8 gigs of free hard drive space (again, I recommend more, maybe 20 to be safe), and an Intel Core 2 Duo processor.  Your Mac also needs to be running Snow Leopard 10.6.8 or any version of Lion, though it is advised you have the latest version of Lion to be safe.  To check if you have all of the requirements, go to the Apple logo in the top left-hand corner of your Mac, and select about this Mac.  This will tell you how much RAM you have, what version of OS X you are using, and what processor you have.  If you want to see what model or year number your Mac is, download the free Mactracker and find out.

There are some things you can do to prepare your Mac for the upgrade, so here’s a rundown.

RUN YOUR UPDATES:

This goes both for your Mac and your apps.  First go to the Apple logo in the top left-hand corner and select “Software Update”.  This will give you any updates needed for your Mac’s OS, plugins, and a few other apps.  Keep running this until there is nothing left for Software Update to install.   If you have purchased anything from the Mac App Store, go to the Updates section and make sure

Update your stuff (image from apple.com)

all of your apps are up to date, as most of them should have already been upgraded for Mountain Lion compatibility.

For any apps you bought outside the Mac App Store, for example Chrome, Firefox, Adobe Flash, etc.  Most should have built-in update processes that should at least notify or let you check for updates.  Make sure you run all of them.  You could also use a third party tool to check for updates, like Cnet Techtracker or AppFresh.

BACKUP:

Apple’s upgrades usually go smoothly, but it’s not uncommon for some people to have problems.  That’s why it’s best to have a backup of all your personal stuff so that you don’t risk losing it.  Even better is a bootable backup to restore from, which you can create with a tool like SuperDuper or Carbon  Copy Cloner.  The key part of this is to make sure that your backup works as well.  So if you’re using an external hard drive, for example, make sure you can access the files by plugging it into your Mac or another Mac and opening some of the files.  If you’re using a bootable backup solution, make sure you can boot off of your Mac; you can do this by plugging in your external hard drive, restarting your Mac, and holding the “Option” key when the Mac starts up.  Then select the external hard drive and if all is well, then your Mac shoot boot up from the external hard drive.

CHECK FOR ERRORS:

Your hard drive may or may not have errors on it.  To test this, open Disk Utility in your Utilities folder (you can also do a Spotlight search for it).  Select your Mac’s hard drive in the left sidebar, the select the “First Aid” tab (which should be selected by default) and then hit “Verify Disk Permissions” followed by “Repair Disk Permissions” when the Mac has finished the verification process.  Once you have finished

This is Disk Utility.

with permissions, run the “Verify Disk” protocol.  It should return with an “OK” message, but should it not then hit “Repair Disk”.

If the repair function cannot fix any problems with the disk, you will need to boot into the recovery partition (Lion user, hold the Option key down at boot) or run your recovery disks that came with your Mac (Snow Leopard and earlier, insert the discs, restart the Mac and hold down the Option key at boot).  From here, you will need to run the disc’s/partition’s Disk Utility or reinstall the OS.

REMOVE ENCRYPTION:

If you are using any form of an encryption tool on your Mac’s hard drive, such as the built-in FileVault, TrueCrypt, or any other similar program, you will need to remove this.  Encryption can cause problems for the update process when the Mac needs to reboot.  Encryption can be re-enabled when the update is done, but for the actual update process it needs to be removed.

 

Some of you may just want to wait a few weeks before upgrading, especially those who run servers or high end apps like Adobe, etc.  This will give others a chance to find bugs between the new OS and any other major apps and you won’t get bitten.  Likewise it means these bugs will be taken care of by the time you do decide to upgrade.  For the average user, however, as long as you follow the above steps then you should be fine.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email us at easyosx@live.com  You can also check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen.  And be sure to check us out on Google Plus.  Thanks!

Games4Mac: Diablo III Beta

This seems like a wonderful time to get back into Games4Mac, and why not start with the Diablo 3 Beta.  Free for this weekend from Blizzard, the guys that bring you Starcraft and World of Warcraft, Diablo 3 is the third title in the Diablo franchise.  You need a Mac running 10.6.8 or higher and a free Battle.net account:

Download the game here: https://us.battle.net/account/download/index.xml

Sign up for Battle.net here: http://www.battle.net

App of the Week: Raven Browser

It seems that the world of internet browser is growing more and more daring. A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Sleipnir browser’s release for Mac, which had a very surprising twist to the browser interface, specifically where tabs and the URL bar were concerned. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying out the newest beta Mac browser on the scene, called Raven. Like so many new upstart browsers to the scene, this one runs on the Webkit engine, the same one that powers Safari and Chrome. As such, most browser testing sites see Raven as Safari. That being said, it feels very light, fairly responsive, and only takes up a little over 7 megabytes.

What first sticks out at you when you first run Raven is the left sidebar, called the SmartBar. You can install into Raven what are called webapps, which really are nothing more than glorified versions of websites. However, where other browsers like Firefox and Chrome simply let you pin the tab,

Screenshot of the Raven Smartbar

when you install a Raven webapp, it really acts like an app. For example, if I install the Facebook app, upon subsequent opening, the app’s icon opens up to reveal quick access to my news feed, messages, friend requests, and calendar. Likewise, other apps have appropriate shortcuts that open up under the app’s icon. If you navigate away from the webapp, you’ll see a a small little light to the right of the icon, much like the OSX dock, to show that the app is still running. These webapps are different from tabs. The tabs are found at the top, just under the URL box. But just like Safari, the tabs are hidden until you have multiple open tabs, or you re-enable them. The tabs also aren’t open in every webapp; so if I open a link in a new tab on my Facebook webapp, and then switch to the YouTube webapp, I won’t see those tabs anymore until I switch back to the Facebook app. Depending on who you are, this may be annoying or convenient, I however did not find it all that distracting. Also, most links opened from outside sources, such as a mail client, will open in the main app, which just looks like the Raven logo at the top of the Smartbar. It is also from this tab that you can easily access your history, downloads, and bookmarks.

Bookmarks also are treated a little differently in Raven. Bookmarks are organized as bookmarks and favorites. Confused? Favorites are websites that you might visit frequently. Bookmarks, are websites that you want to have for reference later or to read the articles on later. It seems a bit of an odd choice to do so, but then again many people have done this before. If you do bookmark a lot of items to be read later, you can link Raven to an Instapaper account so that you can read it later from there. Raven takes a page from Apple’s book, and then makes it better. Raven gives you a visual history of your web activity in a two-paned window style. One pane shows the link and the headers of said links that you clicked. Once you click on one of them, the second page shows you the page itself as when you visited it. I find this nicer than Safari’s visual history because it gives a nice chance to read over the page, so you don’t have to open a whole new tab if you just want to reread an article or quote a small portion of it.

The control bar, which is the main bar of the browser, also has some interesting features. On the left side of the URL/search bar, you have the standard back, forward, and home buttons, but also the add bookmark button. Here you can add the current page to either your bookmarks or favorites. On the other side of the URL/search bar, is the favorites button, for quick access to your favorites, a tab reveal button that will hide of show all your open tabs in the current window, and a mobile view switcher. I find it strange that the favorite button and the add bookmark are not closer to each other. The mobile view button allows you to switch the current webpage from a desktop browser mode, to a mobile mode that you would see on a smartphone or tablet, including the width. I can see this being handy for people testing websites, but I found the idea buggy when trying to exit mobile view. Sometimes it took a restart of the browser to fully exit mobile mode.

Since this is a beta browser, there are some flaws in the system. The browser still seems slow in some areas, such as loading the YouTube homepage, though overall it is faster than Apple’s Safari from the feel of it. I also found that it had occasional problem properly loading Flash video, meaning that my mouse arrow would sometimes vanish from screen, and the when moving to a different part of the video that hadn’t been rendered yet, Raven would get stuck loading that page. While this seemed to be fixed in a recent update to Raven, the browser still seems to struggle with Flash content. Raven also has an abundance of preferences, but it seems most of them can’t be turned on or off. For example, while there is a setting to turn on or off JavaScript being run in a page, the setting is grayed out so that I cannot change the setting

Grayed out preferences

if I want. And while Raven does have a rudimentary Ad-blocker, there are still several ads that it still seems to miss. This also relates somewhat to download. Raven automatically sends and downloaded files straight to your Downloads folder. While this isn’t necessarily bad, I prefer that it pops up a notification asking at least if I want to download the file. Once I was on a merely reading a forum when it automatically started downloading a file. What that file was, I don’t know, but that is a security flaw to me if there were any chance of getting some Mac malware or unwanted crapware on my system. The browser, like most beta browsers do, also does not support links opening the browser from an outside source. So if Raven is closed and I try to open a link from my Twitter feed, I have to click the link once to open the browser, and a second time once Raven is open to actually open the link. One last request would be the addition of notification badges in the webapps, that way I could know if something important changed on the page without always flipping to it (say like a notifications badge for Facebook, new tweets badge for Twitter, etc.).

The browser is still in beta, so it would be no surprise that most of these issues should be resolved with future updates before the final version is released. It is worth the try and is a step in the right direction, but I wouldn’t recommend using this browser just yet for work or for any sensitive web browsing. Raven is a free download from raven.io and runs on Mac OS 10.6 and 10.7 (Snow Leopard and Lion). And If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com You can also check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen. You can also check out my Google Plus Page at https://plus.google.com/107817518299218190319. Thanks!

App of the Week: FileVault 2

About 2 weeks ago, I said I was going to test FileVault 2’s encryption.  Initially, I said I would review it after a week, but I instead decided to test it for 2 weeks to account for things like updating the Mac OS and apps within Mac.  Here is my final review of it.

Filevault is the Mac’s built-in disk encryption tool that has been around since OS 10.3 Panther.  Encryption is a data protection technique.  By locking your hard drive’s data down with an encryption key (a password), your data is basically masked.  While it doesn’t matter much if you always have your Mac, it can really matter if someone steals your Mac or gets access from the outside.  Anyone trying to look at your hard drive’s contents without the encryption key will only see

FileVault 2 icon

random data and no signs of the operating system or your personal files.  Encryption is generally used on high-value systems, such as banks, governments, or any other systems with important personal information.  While most average users don’t have a lot of social security numbers or credit cards on their hard drive, it’s still a good idea to encrypt your hard drive for the information you do have (think bank statements, Mac’s Password Keychain, etc.).

However, for all the convenience that FileVault provides, many Mac users who do encrypt their hard drives have shied away from FileVault for 2 reasons.

  1. Good encryption encrypts the whole hard drive, while FileVault has traditionally only encrypted the User’s Home folder.
  2. Encryption generally takes some hit on a computer’s resources, though the better the encryption tool, the less of an impact it makes on the computer.  FileVault has traditionally had a terrible impact on system performance.
With the release of Lion, Apple has upgraded FileVault to version 2.0, with 128 bit AES Encryption (that’s pretty strong encryption) and the ability to encrypt your entire hard drive, as well as a less dramatic impact on system performance and increased stability.  With these new abilities and promises, I decided to take the plunge with FileVault 2.  And before you ask, all the pictures below (with the exception of a picture involving encryption and backing up) are all taken from http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4790, so you’re not seeing any private information of mine.  REMEMBER: Back up your data before encryption, just for safe keeping.
First you will need to set a decryption key, which is basically the master password to decrypt the disk.  If you forget this password, you can recover it via a recovery key, and/or user security questions (more on that later).  When you enable FileVault, it will ask which users have to right to unlock the disk.  If you have multiple users on the same Mac, you can pick which ones can decrypt, and as such turn on, your Mac.  Each user account will have to enter their password in order to have this access right.  Once the data is decrypted,
User selection screen (property of Apple)
all other users can access the hard drive as usual, so long as the Mac isn’t restarted or put into hibernation.
You will then be presented with a recovery key.  It looks a lot like a registration key that you might see on a copy of Microsoft Office, or some other boxed software.  You should make a copy of it & hide it away, but Apple gives you the ability to store it with them, keeping in with Apple’s Internet syncing theme it has started lately.
Should you decide to keep it with Apple, you will be presented with 3 recovery questions.  You can pick from a variety of question ranging from easy to guess, to rather challenging.  Of course, these are your security questions, so it only matters that you remember your answer to the question.
After all of this is said and done, the encryption will begin.  Depending on the age of your Mac, the speed of your processor, the amount of data on your hard drive, etc., encryption times may vary.  It should take anywhere from 2-3 hours, mine taking about 2 hours.  You will likely see your computer restart a couple of times, but this is normal.  If you
You are using an earlier version... (property of Apple)
have previously used an earlier version of FileVault, you may see this image on the right asking about Legacy FileVault.  This is because of the change in encryption style from Home Folder to entire disk.  It is better to go ahead and turn off Legacy and let FileVault 2 run its encryption.
Once the process is done, your boot up process will be much different.  Now when you turn on the Mac, immediately after the chime you will be presented with a User choice screen, letting you pick among the users that have access to decrypt the disc.  You will be required to enter your FileVault password (the one you made for it, not the recovery key), after which you will automatically be logged in.  After this, my boot up time was noticeable longer than before I encrypted my disk, but once it did boot up, I noticed that all my background apps (Dropbox, Sophos Antivirus, etc.) loaded up much faster.  Some had already been loaded up by the time the desktop appeared.
Now the key question: how is the performance impact?  On my Macbook Pro, running 10.7.1, with 4 gigs of RAM, a 2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, with a half-full hard drive, I did notice a slight performance hit.  Some apps took a few seconds longer to actually begin launching, but for the most part, the only major difference I noticed was the slow down in the start-up and shut down of my Mac.  Overall, I noticed little difference in my daily Mac routine, whether it was watching YouTube, writing notes, or playing Minecraft on my friend’s updated server.  I did test what would happen with backing up a FileVault encrypted drive to an external hard drive via Carbon Copy

Mac asking to be decrypted from a bootable backup drive
Cloner.  The drive booted up perfectly fine, though it did ask for me to provide the decryption key after it booted up before I could do anything else.  It probably would be better if it asked that before booting up.
All in all, I think I will leave my hard drive encrypted, as the performance hit is minor and the security is pretty decent.  If you still feel worried about FileVault 2, you can always try something like TrueCrypt.  FileVault 2 is on Mac OSX Lion and can be found in your Security and Privacy Preference Pane.
If you have a suggestion or a comment, leave a comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com  And remember that you can always check me out on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube by hitting one of the big buttons up top.  Thanks!