Cloud Services Raining Problems – Google Drive & OS X Mavericks

mavericksWhat do Mavericks, Google Drive and Apple Support all have in common? Finder crashes…

Mavericks was made available to the public for free on 2013-10-22. It’s been one of the most successful OS X rollouts ever for Apple, in large part because of its many new features and also because its performance has been top notch. However, that doesn’t mean that all is right with the world.

I don’t really like the Finder Tabs implementation that Apple worked into Mavericks Finder. The “fold under” paradigm to the feature makes it very difficult to see what tabs are available in any particular Finder window. Safari uses the same paradigm and has the same problem, in my opinion.

In order to resolve this issue for me, I don’t use Finder Tabs and instead use Total Finder, an $18 Finder add-on that I was turned on to more than 18 months ago. Version 1.5.2 works best with Mavericks; but you have to watch. If something goes wrong with Finder, it’s probably the first place you should look and the first extension you should kill. If for some reason the extension does go south, it doesn’t auto restart, which is good and bad. Is good because you won’t get caught in some ugly, Finder crashing loop. If Total Finder force quits, Finder should come back, and you should be able to use your Mac “normally.” It’s bad, because if you want the features back after the force quit, you have to manually restart the extension.

I upgraded to Mavericks before the 2013-10-22 availability due to my Developer Program membership. I had the Gold Master before the public did, and it’s been a solid performer for well over a month. I’ve not had any issues with it, Total Finder, or any other application or extension I have installed on my Early 2011 MBP. So, when I started having Finder crashes yesterday morning and ALL yesterday evening, I kinda got worried.

I hadn’t installed any new Mac software. There were no changes to the system that I was aware of, so either something got corrupted, I had a virus or worm intrusion, or I had other problems. I have ClamX AV installed on my Mac, and I have not been getting any warnings from it. I’ve got its System Sentry running and scanning the root and subfolders on EVERY drive permanently attached to it, so I was relatively certain I didn’t have any weird bug.

After Mavericks reinstalled itself (a system update/rebuild of 10.9.0 was released after the GM was made available to Developer Program members and it automatically came down and its install was started), I hadn’t updated any other software. However, all day yesterday, I had Finder crash after Finder crash. Finder would auto restart, but it got to be so bad, that I couldn’t get any work done or even watch any video full screen. The looping Finder crashes took over my machine. I immediately started looking at Total Finder as the culprit. In the past, if my Mac developed Finder issues, it was likely behind them. However, Finder kept crashing over and over, and Total Finder had force closed after the first one. It wasn’t causing the issue.

finder_crash

I took a run over to Apple Support Forums after that. I found a couple of threads about Finder crashes and Mavericks, and a couple of possible solutions. The first one involved removing the com.Apple.Finder.plist file (my system actually had 3, which made me think I some Finder problems anyway…) from my ~Library\Preferences folder. Moderate success had been reported with that.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work for me. Finder continued to crash about once every 2-3 minutes.

The other solution I found was related to people who had Google Drive installed on their Mavericks system. To stop Finder crashes, you had to uncheck the option to display file sync status. That worked.

Shortly after I came to work, I got a notice from MacUpdate Desktop that a new version of Google Drive had been released. Unfortunately, release notes weren’t available at the time of release, and I can’t find anything online that tells me what changed. However, I plan to update Drive when I get home and will likely leave sync status icons disabled, even if they’re fixed. This isn’t the first time that Google Drive’s sync status icons have caused serious performance or stability issues on either Mac or Windows systems. The feature is a convenience, but not something I have to have turned on. As long as the content syncs and my menu bar icon says all is well, I’m happy.

The biggest problem here is that with the big push to get everything in the cloud, Google can’t afford to have Drive causing issues like this. They need to get a handle on it and kill the problem or else the service will be seen as unreliable, even with the work around.

 

Again, this is something that I’ll be monitoring, and if I have an update, I’ll make sure it gets on Soft32.com ASAP.

 

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Desktop Replacements vs. Laptop Replacements

Some laptops were never meant to replace desktops. Others were. In an era where the desktop is disappearing, are tablets meant to replace laptops AND desktops?
Notebook-vs-PC
I’ve been a mobile computing advocate since 1992. I’ve been an expert really, since 2003. Mobile computing has become a way of organizing my life, a way of being more efficient at work as well as a way to entertain my family.  If it wasn’t for my son’s Nintendo DS-XL, some car trips would be unbearable. Dad likes a quiet car…

Desktop computers are being slowly phased out by the consumers that have historically purchased them because portable, more mobile replacements have been taking their place for a number of years. The trend can be taken back to Compaq’s luggable” portable computer that was introduced back in 1980 blah-blah-blah. People have wanted to take their computers with them since they were first introduced…

It was long thought that laptops and notebook computers would cause desktops to be phased out, but that didn’t quite happen.  You can credit that to the fact that they were really the same computer, at least on the inside. For the most part they used the same operating systems and the same applications. There was so much mobile form factor diversity, that the laptop PC almost insured that it wouldn’t phase out the desktop.  Tablets however, are a different story. There are basically only two form factors 7″-8″ and 10″ – or more aptly put – a mini and a normal sized tablet.

Apple’s new A7 processor appears in not only the iPhone 5S, but in the new iPad mini and the iPad Air. The A7 runs 100mHz faster in the tablet versions of Apple’s newest iDevices, and with some of the newer keyboard covers that are coming out for the devices, you have to ask yourself the question – will the iPad Air replace the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro as Apple’s mobile computing platform?  Should it?

The A7 runs 80% faster than the A6. It seems to, or appears to, have the chops to handle most of the computing tasks that most consumers would need – web surfing, email, moderate digital photography retouching. As I said before, all that most any casual consumer would need at that point would be the right kind of keyboard cover, and without a doubt, the iPad Air or new iPad mini could be their go-to computing device. Those that are more comfortable with a full featured PC, notebook or other computer can still get what they need today with either a Mac mini or MacBook Pro; or even a notebook or desktop PC.

Consumers want what ever device is going to provide the path of least resistance to their computing goal. The biggest problem with tablets as a primary computing device, in my opinion, has been their slate form factor and lack of keyboard and, even with their touch screens, a pointing device like a trackpad or mouse.

Devices like Surface Pro and Surface 2 Pro have the right idea – a portable slate device with a very usable keyboard and trackpad.  Now that third party accessory makers are providing usable, comfortable keyboard covers for the tablets in general, I think we ARE going to see more tablets with magnetic keyboards.  With processors that are providing notebook level computing power, I think that for the immediate computing future, say the next 3-5 years, notebooks and desktops won’t be completely replaced in the consumer market, but more users will likely be headed in that direction. It simply makes sense from a usability, portability, economic and ecosystem perspective.  Forget lean back and lean forward computing, tablets will be the devices we lean TOWARDS to get work done.

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Fairfax Deal Falls Through – Blackberry on the Skids?

Sometimes I really hate it when I’m right…

The clock has been ticking for Blackberry for quite some time, and today, the alarm went off. You know, I really feel bad. I really do. I hate it when I’m right, but some things really just can’t be helped.

I’ve been down on RIM/Blackberry for quite some time. I’ve been calling for them to see the writing on the wall since late 2011. Its seems now, they actually do know “for whom the bell tolls.” This time, it tolls for Thorsten Heins as Blackberry ousts not only him, but many of its senior directors as well in a last ditch effort to salvage some value out of the organization before it’s too late.

The buy-out by Fairfax Financial isn’t going to take place, and that’s really too bad. It was, in my opinion, Blackberry’s last, real chance to maintain any of its identity. Instead of the buyout, which would have been a nearly $5.0B deal, Fairfax is going to try to raise about $1.0B by selling convertible notes in a bid to stabilize the organizations shrinking operating capital. Recently, the company reported a quarterly loss of about $1.0B and burned through an additional $500M in cash.

Sybase’s former chairman and chief executive of its enterprise technology firm, John Chen, will take over as CEO and as chairman of its board. Fairfax’s CEO, Prem Watsa will act as lead director and the chair of Blackberry’s compensation committee. There are specific, unspecified conditions that must also be met for the deal to close, which also includes approval from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Trading of Blackberry shares was briefly halted, prior to the Nasdaq actually opening, as they lost nearly 21% in premarket trading. As of 2 PM EST, BBRY shares were still down 1.28 to 6.49.

wake up blackberry

After the operating capital is secured, I’m not certain what Blackberry’s Plan B moves are. However, if they’re smart, those moves should include finding some kind of buyer for their IP before it becomes completely irrelevant. Blackberry’s security technology is great for mobile email, but many of its current customers are moving to other solutions as they weren’t able to make their latest OS gain any traction with the consumer market and have only had mild success in the enterprise market. Divesting the organization’s assets seems the only real alternative for them to get any return on their investor’s money… before the world completely moves on.

 

I’ll be following this in the coming days and weeks to see if and what John Chen decides to do with the organization. Please watch Soft32.com for updates.

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Microsoft Windows 8.1 Delta Review

Introduction

Windows PC’s are some of the most affordable computers available today. Portable or not, they cost hundreds of dollars where Macs can cost thousands. If you want an affordable or budget PC, portable or not, its likely going to be a Windows machine. Unless there’s a Windows 7 offer, you can expect to have the latest version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system on it.

Windows 8.1 has a few interesting changes in it. I’ve covered the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 for Soft32. There wasn’t a huge delta – or change – between the Consumer Preview and the version that hit the streets. There are some interesting changes between Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. Let’s check them out and see if Windows 8.1 is the version of Windows 8.x that we’ve been hoping for.

New Features

Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but please remember that Windows 8.1 is still very much Windows 8. There are some very, very good improvements to legacy usability that should make many users of non-touch enabled PC’s very happy; but Microsoft didn’t go quite as far as it could have – or should have – for a great many users. Windows 8.1 still has ModernUI throughout most of it.

However, that doesn’t mean that the improvements that were made weren’t valuable. They are. Windows 8.1 is a much better Windows 8 than Windows 8 was. Let’s take a look at what was done, and see how it all stacks up. Depending on the type of PC you have, you may find them more relevant than others.

Start Button – but no start Menu

The masses have not been happy with the lack of a Start Button and Start Menu in Windows 8. The Start Menu has been around since the early days of Windows XP, and as many will tell you, was optimized in Windows 7. Microsoft has heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth and has resolved the issue…sorta.

Win81-01 Start Button

The Start Button is back, but the Windows 8 Start Screen is still here. There’s no Start Menu any longer. So unless you replace the Live Tiles with the All Programs menu, you’re stuck with them. The functionality here is still very good, and Microsoft has included the new Search Everywhere option (which is the real value of the Start Menu) which includes searching SkyDrive as well as online, for the terms you’re looking for.

Those of us used to using Windows in the Enterprise will also notice that the consumer version of Windows 8.1 also includes a log off/Sign Out option, accessible via a right click or by pressing Win-X, allowing users to take the PC back to an on, but not logged on status. This makes sharing PCs at home a bit easier as you truly DON’T have to share a single account with a spouse or siblings. All the instances of each app can truly be customized for any user of any account and you don’t have to share unless you want to.

This particular point is still a huge issue for many people. They really don’t like the Live Tile-based Start Screen on non-touch enabled and/or legacy PC’s. For those that just can’t live with the Start Screen, you can always install Start8.

Boot to Desktop

One of the biggest problems with Windows 8 is that it took you right to the Start Screen every time the PC finished the startup process. As part of the Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft introduced a Boot to Desktop option for users who simply weren’t going to use ModernUI or who preferred to see the standard Windows Desktop. It *IS* where most users will do most of their work.

Win81-03 Boot Desktop

Interestingly enough, the options for this are connected to the Task Bar and not to your desktop (Personalization) or Display options. To get to these, right click your Task Bar, click Properties and then choose the Navigation tab.

Here, you’ll see a great many Windows 8.1 options, including the option to replace the Start Screen with the All Apps view. Take note of this tab and this dialog box. You’re likely going to become very familiar with the options here as you try to figure out the best set of “navigation options” for you.

This is one of the biggest advantages of Windows 8.1 over Windows 8. If your PC doesn’t have a touch interface and you aren’t going to be using it as a lean-back device (a tablet-like, content consumption device) then you may want to give serious consideration to using Boot to Desktop. Using this, along with options like the All Apps View go a long way to hiding ModernUI elements from users who really won’t make use of them.

IE11 Updates

Windows 8.1 comes with IE11, so you won’t need to update the browser via Windows update or any other manual process. The ModernUI version of the Microsoft’s web browser includes Reading View, which allows you to view and read content off line. It has settings that allow you to customize its look and feel with different fonts and colors choices. You can also turn Tracking Protection on and off and prevent sites from tracking you or from installing 3rd party cookies.

Win81-04 IE11

Next page

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No Derp Intended – What Apple Might be Doing with iWork

There may be madness to the method…

Apple’s iWork has been causing a ruckus. As I mentioned the other day, angry users are ditching iWork for Office. Microsoft fired back in the resurging Office Suite War without even loading their guns. Apple seems to have shot themselves in the foot with the stripping down of iWork.

But consider this – Final Cut Pro. How familiar is this situation?

Didn’t the same kind of thing happen? Didn’t users wail and gnash their teeth? Was not the cry so loud that the SDLC gods moved Apple to pacify the natives before they revolted?

i dont workComputerWorld’s Jonny Evans seems to think so. He sees this not as a dumbing down of the software, bringing parity with iOS and iDevices everywhere, but as a way of leveling the playing field before reintroducing features and functionality in a way that will allow those things to be universal across the App Store.

He has a point. That’s sorta what Apple did with Final Cut Pro. Sorta.

Jonny’s point is – wait and see. And he may be right. For now, users who upgraded can look in a subfolder under the iWork app folder and they can run the OLDER version (ver. 4.x) of iWork that version 5 replaced. At least until newer versions are released that contain the features that users are screaming about. However… there is a catch.

Apple really has one chance to get this right, and while they don’t have to reintroduce ALL of the removed features in the next version, they DO need to communicate their intentions without it seeming as though they are caving to user demands and putting things back that they took out. It’s a little thing, but it’s going to go a long way to strengthening their credibility in the eyes of a user base that feels jilted.

The problem with that is that Apple – and for that matter Microsoft or any other software publisher – doesn’t make it public policy to publish the roadmap for every <widget> out there. Apple is one of the most secretive companies in the world; and I expect them to stay that way. However, part of getting this right is going to be Apple explaining what’s going on and not making everyone either guess or wait until pundits read the tea leaves just before or just after another update of iWork is released.

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From the Derp Department – Apple Screwed up iWork

OK… Maybe I spoke too soon. Someone pass me a fork for the crow pie I’m about to eat.

A few days ago I mentioned that Apple restarted and won the Office Suite War with its release of a new version of iWork and priced it for free, at least on new Macs.

I may have spoken too soon.

In an interesting development, a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth has been heard in the Apple Orchard after existing users upgraded to the latest version of iWork. Apparently, in order to insure cross platform compatibility, and have really one code base across iOS, Mavericks and the Web, Apple stripped a great many features out of the suite.

For example, Pages as had endnotes, outline view, selection of non-contiguous text, facing pages, saving files in RTF format, removed from the app. It also now contains significant limitations in automating workflow using AppleScript, and has lost more than 100 ready-to-use templates.

While Apple states this makes the software easier to maintain across platforms, most users aren’t going to care. It’s nice to be able to say you can use whatever device you have in front of you to do work, but reality is – most users do work on a specific device every time there’s work to do.

i dont work

For example – I listen to music and make calls on my iPhone. I watch movies and read books on my iPad. I write reports, columns and reviews on my Mac. While the new version of iWork will let me do that on both my iPhone and iPad, it’s not something that I’d do. Users just want the features back. Software upgrades are supposed to fix or enhance existing features and introduce new ones. They aren’t supposed to dumb software down so it’s easier for the publisher to maintain. That’s not a user’s concern and it will never be…

Unfortunately, Apple has a lot of fallout to address based on their 1000+ comments and over 50,000 page views of two threads in their Support Forums complaining about the mess that iWork has turned into.

So… what’s happening on the other end of the battle field? Quite simply, Microsoft is laughing all the way to the bank. Users who want to turn their Mac into a productivity tool can buy Office and get the features they want and need. They can also get an Office 365 subscription, work on their iPad via the online version.

So yeah… Apple may have restarted the war, but they didn’t end it like I thought they did because I didn’t think they’d be stupid enough to dumb the desktop version down so that both it and the iOS version could be compiled from a single code base. Microsoft fired back, and they didn’t have to make a single move. All they did was wait for users to discover how lacking iWork really is and then start laughing as they passed out trial versions of Office.

Now… if Microsoft wants to put this to bed for good… it will make the basic version of Office or Office 365 – Word, Excel, PowerPoint – available to “switchers” for free, say for a year. 

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Who Designs this Stuff – Microsoft Surface Pro 2 Power Supply & Pen Connector

From the WTH department comes the easiest way in the world to lose a $30 Stylus

I am probably one of the most anal retentive people I know. I keep all of my computing equipment in pristine, mint condition as I never know when I’m going to put it up on eBay or Craig’s List and sell it because something else got introduced. Recycling computer equipment is something that is getting a LOT of press right now. Special nods to the iDevice for its rapid revision cycle and Apple’s high product quality levels.

One of the things that makes this difficult, however is poor design. Case in point – Microsoft Surface RT/2 and Pro/2 devices use a magnetic charger just like most of Apple’s laptops; but there’s a subtle difference – the Surface devices use the same port to dock its stylus when the charger isn’t connected.

surface pen connector

The problem is that the magnet that holds the stylus isn’t strong enough to hold it in place. It’s easily knocked off and you might not notice that it’s fallen off and no longer there for quite a while.

Losing the stylus is a huge problem. The magnet that holds the pen in place isn’t strong enough. The port that holds it also sits against the angled side of the device at a 45 degree angle. The wall isn’t flat. The stylus is difficult to dock and often doesn’t sit right in the magnetic well. The weak bond makes the stylus fall off very easily. If you don’t hear it fall, you won’t notice it’s gone until long after you’ve lost it. Then it costs you $30USD to replace.

As I mentioned earlier, the stylus docks in the same spot as the device’s charger is placed. As the side of the device is at a 45 degree angle, and the charging port is long, stiff and exact fitting, it’s difficult to place into the port due to the size, shape and angle of the side of the device. The charger often doesn’t make full contact with the charging plate, and then… doesn’t charge the device.

It’s the 45 degree angle that prevents the charger from sitting correctly. The charger cord also doesn’t like being twisted enough to face the charging plate.

SurfacePower

What does this all mean – besides the fact that the guy that designed these features should be found and shot? It means that you’re likely going to need to buy a few extra styli or hope someone designs an affordable or reasonably priced, 3rd party keyboard that includes a built in stylus that’s either tethered to it, sits in a silo or both. Unfortunately, Surface 2/Pro uses the same stylus and AC adapter, so no one addressed this design flaw in the new hardware release.

If you’re considering a Surface 2/Pro, you’ll need to be aware of this issue. There has to be a better way of keeping track of these styli without buying a pencil cup full of them for if and when you lose them. There should also be a better way of charging and powering the device. There are other design issues with the AC adapter (charging indicator location) that I also really haven’t touched on that should be resolved. Again… who designed this and/or approved the designs?

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Microsoft Rereleases Windows RT 8.1 Update #2

Ok… this time they REALLY mean it…

surface_largeThe other day I mentioned that Microsoft’s Windows RT 8.1 Update was discovered to brick some devices. Additional information, as well as a release of an updated install file, has been made available, and I wanted to update everyone on the situation.

First of all, I reported that the cause of the update was a corrupted recovery image. That was inaccurate. The issue only effected Surface RT tablets. It did not affect other OEM’ed devices. The cause of the issue has been identified and traced back to firmware updates that did NOT get applied to certain Surface RT devices.

While Microsoft indicates that it only really effected 1 out of every 1000 Surface RT tablets – MAYBE – the update did cause a noted number of units to become non-functional.

That issue has now been resolved. You can find additional information on how to unbrick your Surface RT tablet here. However, you’ll need to be careful.

The recovery process requires that you be comfortable working with the Command Prompt and are able to insure you have Administrator rights to the device. It’s a bit involved, so if you have problems, AND you have a Microsoft Store within driving distance, you might want to take a trip there and have them help you.

Unfortunately, this comes at a time when Microsoft can least afford issues like this, especially with their mobile devices. After Apple made Mavericks, iWork and iLife free and gave everyone an even more compelling reason to stay, switch to, or upgrade their mobile products to something they made, its blunders like this that make you wonder if Microsoft knows what it’s doing.

It’s a tough question, I know…but it’s something that I’ve heard at least 2 people ask in separate, non-connected conversations today.

What do you think? How damaging is this for Microsoft, especially in light of the Apple announcement on 2013-10-22?

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