Archive for the ‘mac’ Tag

Firefox 3 Beta for Mac Shows Promise

After giving Firefox 3 beta 1 a fair bit of testing, I am happy to say it has a lot going for it. Right now may not be a great time to upgrade since the majority of extensions are not compatible with the beta, but it’s a bright look into the future of the browser.

Bookmarking has undergone a major overhaul in Firefox 3. The new bookmark tools, called places,  are like smart folders that give you quick access to your most visited bookmarks or recently added favorites. Bookmarks can now be tagged, a direct stab at the social bookmarking competition like del.icio.us.

While Firefox 3 for the Mac is still a Carbon application, meaning nifty features like the services menu and access to the system-wide dictionary are not available, but the new native widgets make its appearance a little more bearable. And theme creator Aronnax has updated his GrApple theme for 3.0b1, making Firefox appear nearly indecipherable from Safari–that’s a good thing.

Still lacking in Firefox 3 is support for the system-wide keychain for password storage. This is a feature available in Safari and in Mozilla’s own Camino browser. Why they can’t incorporate it into Firefox instead of its junky proprietary one is beyond me.

You can check out the current 3.0 beta now, but I would recommend waiting a month or two for the final release, which has serious potential to steal some Safari 3 users away from Apple.

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Improving Computer Password Delays

For many computer applications and web sites, if you incorrectly enter your password during login, it will force a delay of a few seconds. Some login systems, like the one for Mac OS X, exponentially increase the delay time for each incorrect entry. This measure was initially put into place to deter password-cracking software, which would repeatedly attempt to enter thousands or millions of word combinations from a dictionary in an attempt to access an account.

The problem with this system is that the software engineer seems to forget that the interface is designed to be used by people, not machines. And people make mistakes. Brand Templeton suggests a better method: implement the delay after four failed attempts. By the fourth, it becomes obvious that the user has either forgotten his password entirely (and needs assistance) or is behind a malicious access attempt.

I’ve seen Templeton’s idea implemented on one banking site I frequent, where after five failed attempts, it locks me out for 24 hours. I seem to always find myself fumbling through my brain trying to remember which login-password combination I used for what banking site. I like the concept of the forgiving password delay, but please, whoever decides to implement this, don’t make the lockout time so absurdly long. It’s a very thin line a developer must walk between security and user-friendliness.

Surviving Modern Parenthood

Productivity guru Merlin Mann has just become a daddy. And as one might aspect, it has completely changed his life. One particular adaption he mentioned on his blog, 43 Folders, is that he now carries around a notebook to jot down things throughout the day. I’ve gone over the benefits of the notebook secretary, and have even offered tips for those with the high-tech alternatives.

On the subject of children, the new Mac operating system, Leopard, is making its way into homes. One great new feature for parents is parental controls. The controls are incredibly expansive, including the ability to block sets or specific web sites in Safari, stop kids from using certain applications or even setting bed times. Parents with little Mac users should look into the new controls offered in Leopard.

Apple Not Showing Students the Love

The Mac OS X Leopard announcement wasn’t all good news. The software is up on the Apple Store web site, and apparently Apple Inc. has stopped showing students the love. Whereas all previous OS X updates cost students $79, reduced from the $129 retail price, Leopard’s education discount is now a measly $13–a price tag of $116 for students.

There has been a disturbing trend in the past few years–along the timeline of the company’s rebirth success story–of Apple giving fewer and fewer perks to students. Apple’s summer hardware program, where it gives a free outdated iPod to students who purchase a new computer, still seems to be in place. But software discounts–iLife and iWork ’08 saw price increases as well–and discounts on less expensive hardware–forget about discounted iPods anymore– are over.

Students are an incredibly important demographic for Apple, a company that prides itself on making hardware for artists. What group has incredible ambitions but little money to act on them? College kids. So when your company’s Facebook group has more than 400,000 members, it’s probably a good idea to keep that demographic happy.

Sync iPhone with Mac Keychain

I have a ton of passwords. It seems like every web site now requires a username and password to do anything. Facebook, Digg, the New York Times: it never ends! Fortunately I have all these logins saved in Keychain Access, a universal application where Macs save all your passwords for access from Safari, Camino or any app that needs them.

It came as a bit of surprise when I learned the iPhone and iPod touch don’t sync with Keychain. Not only does it not sync, but you can’t even save passwords onto the devices. Every time you want to access the many users-only sites on the web, you need to manually enter your login information.

It’s a minor annoyance, but it is one that could be fixed with a simple addition of Keychain syncing. iTunes already syncs your media, address book, calendar, mail and bookmarks. Why not your passwords?

Sizzling Keys and iTunes: A Good Pair

After my post tearing into Quicksilver yesterday, I realized it packs a few undeniably great features — one being the missing links it provides for Apple iTunes. It allows me to search my iTunes library and queue up songs in Party Shuffle. I can also assign keyboard shortcuts to common tasks, like play/pause and skipping songs.

But I managed to remove Quicksilver from my hard drive and keep that great functionality with a lighter app called Sizzling Keys. Once installed, Keys is out of the way until I need it. Unlike Quicksilver, there’s no hard drive scanning every 10 minutes. Its preference interface is tucked away in System Preferences, where you can assign keyboard shortcuts to iTunes functions.

Apple is addressing the keyboard shortcut issue with new keyboards, which feature dedicated keys for iTunes. But for those who don’t want to shell out the cash for a new keyboard, Keys is a great solution.

The Keys application also offers the ability to search the songs in your library with a simple keystroke. By pressing control-spacebar, a transparent menu comes up, where I can search for a song and then add it to party shuffle or play it immediately. Very handy for people who have their jukebox going just about all the time.

Why Quicksilver for Mac Sucks

Whenever I run across a web site detailing the top applications for Mac, Quicksilver by Blacktree Inc. (or its spiritual predecessor, Objective Development Software’s LaunchBar) always seems to make the list.

These apps are essentially a new way of using your computer. Well, not exactly new, per say. In fact, they use one of the oldest ways of interacting with computers (what’s called the command line), reintroducing it with a dressed up interface.

With a keyboard shortcut like control-spacebar, the user pulls up the Quicksilver window, which looks like a search box, and starts typing, as the app fetches realtime results, similar to Spotlight. You can launch apps and files, add text to a document or do math calculations within the search window. For example, to calculate 2+2, you type “=2+2” in the box.

Mac geeks bill this as the better way to use your computer. But for most people, it’s not.

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Mac Tip: Safari 3 Keyboard Shortcut to Merge All Windows

With the new Safari 3 beta, Apple Inc. has added a great feature in being able to drag tabs out and merge windows on the fly. But for those who prefer using the keyboard over the mouse, there’s no keyboard shortcut for merging windows.

So here’s how to set it up:

Step 1. Open System Preferences in the Apple menu.

Step 2. Click on “Keyboard & Mouse” and then on the “Keyboard Shortcuts” tab.

Step 3. Create a shortcut for the feature by clicking the plus sign, selecting “Safari” as your application, entering “Merge All Windows,” and selecting a key combination for it. I chose ⇧⌘M.

Now relaunch Safari. Whenever you have a bunch of windows clogging the screen, hold the command, shift and M keys to merge them into one with tabs.

This is a useful way to add custom keyboard shortcuts to just about every app (but it doesn’t work in some, like Firefox). A couple other crucial custom shortcuts I use are ⌘K in Mail for “Add Hyperlink,” and ⇧⌘E in Pages for “Export” so I can save my file as a Microsoft Word document.

How to Setup a Downloads Folder on Any Mac

When Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs at the June Worldwide Developers Conference showed off the key features of the new Mac operating system, OS X Leopard, due on shelves later this year, one addition he focused on was a new folder for downloaded files that sits in the dock, providing easy access to those files.

“One of the biggest reasons our desktops are cluttered is because we download stuff over the Internet through our browsers and through e-mail, and it ends up on our desktop,” said Jobs over a roar of applause from audience members. “We’re redirecting those things to a simple ‘downloads’ folder.”

The idea is even simpler than Jobs seems to suggest. In fact, with less than five minutes of tweaking, it can be replicated right now on any Mac on the market — minus the flashy fan effect.

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Today in Shiny, White Toys

It was a good day for the kings of white gadgets.

Apple Inc. and Nintendo Co. came out swinging this morning with their respective software and hardware updates.

Wii Shop MenuNintendo got things started early with a major software update to its Wii game console. Unlike previous updates, 3.0 did not add any new channels, but it tightened the overall software interface.

A Shop channel overhaul and improved bulletin board for exchanging messages, along with the additions of a clock, at-a-glance weather and news all on the home screen go a long way in tightening the overall user experience. These tweaks boost the system’s living room “stickiness,” meaning Nintendo is closing in on its goal of making Wii the household central hub.

And when I was checking out the new virtual console shop, I noticed Wave Race 64 was added to the roster of downloadable games. That game was my bread and butter 10 years ago.

Just a few hours after we got a nifty update to one little white box, Apple was giving us every reason to throw out the shiny, white iMac computer it touted for the past year in favor of an even shinier, aluminum one.

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