Sunday, February 22, 2009

Book Review: The iPhone Book Second Edition


Sometimes sequels are better than the original and sometimes they are worse. Then there is the genre of movies that shouldn't have been made in the first place, much less a sequel. The iPhone Book falls into the latter category. Kelby and White again fail to deliver a useful iPhone book for the money. For the price, the average iPhone/iTouch user would be better off with another book. The information in The iPhone Book is technically accurate and helpful, but there is simply not enough of it. Much of the space in the book is filled with iPhone screenshots and "too much information" about the author's personal lives and not enough iPhone facts.

Similar to the original version, each iPhone concept is devoted one entire page, no matter how complex or simple the subject. Turning on vibrate mode on your iPhone is given the same space as iTunes library syncing as setting up email accounts. If the superfluous white space and screen shots were taken out, the book would probably be about 1/4 it's current size. The target user for this book is someone who probably wouldn't normally buy a computer book. With the pictures and white space it's a quick and easy read and allows the reader to pick up the book without having to remember where they left off. The reader will have a basic understanding of the critical aspects of the iPhone in a very short period of time.

Overall, the book is easy to read, but would only be helpful to the absolute beginner new iPhone or iTouch users. Again, this review is short because the book is so short!

Pros: Quick to read and easy to understand
Cons: Not enough helpful information and explanations

2 out of 5 Dogcows

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Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book Review: Cool Mac Apps

51ywp55en4l_sl500_aa240_Robin Williams (the writer and graphic designer, not the actor) has rightly earned her crown as Queen of the Mac. Her writings on Macintosh software is simply outstanding. While "Cool Mac Apps" isn't her best work, it's still a great book and compliments other books on how to use Leopard. In fact, this book should be seen as a companion to her other books on Leopard, most notably her "Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Peachpit Learning Series." "Cool Mac Apps" expects a basic understanding of how to use the Mac and the Leopard operating system.

The book assumes you have iLife '08 and Leopard installed, and while focusing on iLife, it still covers such Leopard applications as iCal, Mail, Address Book, Safari, iChat and Time Machine. I would have suggested calling this an iLife book, but with the addition of some of the more practical applications that don't fit into the iLife series, that wouldn't make much sense either.

Overall the book is a competent overview of iLife and other Leopard applications. The book was lacking in some of Robin Williams' trademark design. In fact, this book read like most other books on computers. The writing was a bit dense and lacking in full color photos and white space that increases readability. Dare I saw the book was a bit boring? The writing in individual chapters consisted mostly of features, menu commands and preferences and was lacking in practical applications or exercises.

After reading this book, don't expect to become an expert in any of these subjects, but if you feel you want to "dabble" a bit more and don't want to buy a whole book on iPhoto or iDVD, this may be a good book for you. This might be a good "in-between" book to help a reader determine if they want to explore iLife further. I would recommend this book to a Mac beginner who understands the basics of their new Mac, but wonders what all those programs that came with the computer can do.

Pros: Broad coverage of programs that come with new Macs
Cons: Lacks readability and practical application


2 out of 5 dogcows
Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Software Review: Stellar Phoenix Macintosh

box-packIt is said that there are two types of hard drives: those that have failed and those that are going to fail. It is simple math: your hard drive will fail, it's just a matter of time. Obviously good backups are your first line of defense. Your second line of defense is a data recovery program like Stellar Phoenix. I reviewed their 1.0 product a few years back and the program was extremely rough around the edges and not ready for the general public. The 3.0 version of the software is a welcome revision, but the program still isn't a truly "Mac friendly" product, often using unix-style prompts rather then standard Mac dialog boxes. The program retails for $129 and has a 30 day money back guarantee.

Stellar is a primarily a PC based software manufacturer and it shows. Their user interface doesn't look like a Mac program. It follows few, if any MacOS design conventions. In particular, their help system uses Windows icons and the Windows help interface. Their marketing material also shows a fundamental lack of Macintosh background. They refer to repair situations that only occur on older systems running OS 9. In addition, they refer to "Lacie" [sic] drives, when they apparently means external hard drives. Why they are using the generic term "LaCie" to refer to external hard drives is unclear, but I'm sure Maxtor, Seagate, and Other World Computing are annoyed by it.

As stated earlier, the interface of the program doesn't follow Mac conventions and is quite confusing. You are faced with three choices for recovery: "Hard Drive", "iPod", or "Recover Photos, Music & Video Files." However, the options are basically the same whichever one you choose, which is confusing. Once you choose one of the recovery types you have to decide between "Formatted media/Lost File Recovery" and "Search Lost/Deleted Volumes." The documentation doesn't make clear the difference. The choices also don't warn you it doesn't recover from FAT32 or NTFS volumes, which many external hard drive and flash drives use. Other programs warn you of this fact, Stellar simply says no data found, which can be misleading at times.

Unfortunately, because development is done outside the US, the program documentation and interface suffers from the typical grammatical confusion that occurs after something is translated from its native language to English. Similarly, technical support is not US based and when I had problems I was unable to effectively communicate with them and have my questions adequately addressed. Do not count on being able to contact technical support if you purchase this product.

In spite of the language barriers and the interface, if you are able to figure things out on your own, the product seems to perform well. Obviously testing data recovery properly is difficult because most recovery attempts change the reliability of future recovery attempts. Nonetheless, I recently had an opportunity to try it both as the first program for recovery and the second program, and Stellar Phoenix effectively recovered data consistent with other programs in the same price range. However, unlike other applications in its price range, Stellar Phoenix does not have a bootable DVD version. You must install Stellar on a computer before you can use it. This greatly limits Stellar's ability to recover in emergency situations. Most other programs cost less and offer more options than Stellar.

Overall, the program does work, although the documentation and interface is quite confusing. This would not be the first nor the primary tool I would recommend to use in a crisis to recover files off a hard drive. If other options fail you, Stellar is worth at least a try with their free evaluation and 30 day money back guarantee.

Pros: Works decently and is another tool to try for data recovery
Cons: Poor interface, documentation and support.

3 out of 5 dogcows
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Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Software Review: Executive Sync

Software Review Executive Sync
Executive Sync Review


At one point in history, the word "executive" tended to stand for some type of higher-end product, or a product with special features that separated it from the merely ordinary. Unfortunately, today, when we hear "executive" we think of corruption, bribes, and incompetence. Executive Sync tends to use the newer, less appealing meaning of the word. However at $29.99, it won't wipe out your 401(k) unlike those other "Executives."

Executive Sync promises to sync files "to servers running Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, and more" as well as "keep your work or personal files up-to-date between home, office, and on the road." It does...but not really. I had inaccurately assumed the product was similar to Sugar Sync or Drop Box: I specify the computers I want synced and this happens in the background. I was wrong.

Executive Sync runs only on a Mac and the way it syncs is by mounting volumes from Windows, Linux and other operating systems. If you want to sync with a Windows machine, you must network your Mac to the PC and Executive Sync treats the Windows machine just like another disk. SMB file sharing is not a simple task for the average user. More importantly, in order to sync files you must be currently networked to the system you want to sync files with. Unlike other programs that sync through the Internet, Executive Sync requires you to remember to sync the files before you leave the office. Not sure how handy that is "on the road." In theory, you could set up a complex VPN so you could connect to your home or office computer from the road, but that is technology that costs significant money and I doubt the average person has any type of setup like that. If they did, they would have probably write their own software to sync files.

Inaccurate marketing aside, Executive Sync does synchronize files between two folders mounted on your Mac. The program was able to find subtle differences between two folders and keep them in check. It does not do this automatically. You must manually start the program and run the sync. While there is a scheduling option, the scheduling only allows you to make sure the files are in sync at the time of scheduling. If the files are out of sync, you won't be notified until the program runs again. Not only does this make it less convenient, but the program is quite slow. I synchronized two folders on my MacPro with about 40 GB of files and it took almost four hours. While running, the program was a processor hog and I couldn't do much else.

The final nail in the coffin of Executive Sync is the fact there is virtually no tech support for the product. It is distributed by Smith Micro, which has no technical support information for the product. When you click the link for tech support, it simply takes you back to the product information page. The product is not listed in their tech support forums or contact pages. The help section of Executive Sync is acceptable, but can never replace technical support if you have an issue that goes beyond what is covered in the help.

Ultimately, the product does the basics of what it says: synchronizes files between two folders. The user interface was straightforward and easy to understand and the installer was the standard drop into the application folder. The program lets you pick which folders you want synchronized and allows you to save the settings. However, the marketing is misleading as to the scope of what the product does and the inability to get technical support on the product makes it a program that is best to avoid when so many other higher quality options exist with more features.

Pros: Does accurately synchronize folders
Cons: Misleading marketing, extremely slow, no tech support

1 out of 5 dogcows

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Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right