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February 2007 - Vol. 7, Issue No. 88
By Scot Finnie
In This Issue
In early November I began a total-immersion trial of the Macintosh as part of my research in gauging whether Vista is most people's best operating system choice. I started by making a brand new MacBook Pro 17 my primary computer. For a month before the trial officially started in November, and the two weeks that followed, I worked on selecting products, converting data, and setting up corporate software systems for my company, Computerworld, as well as finding solutions for personal use. Prior to my adoption of the Mac, I had one Windows computer for both business and home, so the Mac had to handle both sets of tasks too.
After hundreds of hours testing Vista and living with the Mac for three months, the choice was, well, crystal clear. I've struggled to sort out my gut feeling about Windows Vista, but the value and advantage of the Mac and OS X are difficult to miss. Microsoft's marketing materials for a past version of Windows used the phrase, "It just works." But the only computer that tagline honestly describes is the Macintosh. Don't translate that in your mind as, "Yeah, so what, the Mac is easy to use." Any new computing environment takes some getting used to. The easy-to-use aspect is nice, but not all that significant. When Mac users say, "It just works," what they mean is that you spend more time on your work, and a lot less time working on your computer.
In case you missed two previous stories in this series that detailed my experiences setting up to give the Mac a shot and you want to catch up on them, you can find those stories here:
What About Windows?
While I continue to work with Windows XP and Vista on a number of other machines, I am now recommending the Macintosh for business and home users. My problems with Vista have more to do with changes in strategic direction at Microsoft. In a recent column at Computerworld, I detailed my final assessment of Vista and Microsoft, and I wound up by saying, "... it's not that I don't like Vista. It's that I've lost faith in Microsoft to deal in an evenhanded way with end users and corporate buyers of its software." I urge you to take a look at this piece, The Trouble with Vista. Not only does it provide insight into my thinking, it may save you from making some mistakes with Vista if you're making the switch.
Note that my Mac runs Windows in the Parallels virtual-machine software, which I use frequently for a handful of specific tasks. The version of Windows I use there, and that I am currently recommending, is Windows XP. Again, if you read "The Trouble with Vista" piece, I think you'll see why I currently recommend XP over Vista. That recommendation may change at some later date. I also know that many of my advanced readers will move to Vista anyway (as I have done on my main Windows PC). That's OK, as long as you go into it with your eyes open.
Living with the Mac: December to February
I received so much email from Scot's Newsletter and Computerworld readers about the last installment in the Mac trial series that there's just no way to read it all. Mac forums and blog sites ripped me to shreds for picayune details, most of which were misunderstood or taken out of context. But more than a thousand people wrote to wish me well with my tests, many of them telling of their own switch to the Mac or offering help and useful insights. The link to the Scot's Newsletter version of Part II appears above; this is the Computerworld version, which adds some detail:
There are a few points I need to set to rights. My initial call for help in finding Mac programs was not detailed enough. My apologies for that. I didn't realize how many people would try to help.
For one thing, I mentioned I was looking for a solid screenshot utility for the Mac and I still haven't found a solution that works for me. But if I had a dollar for everyone who wrote, with the best intentions, to tell me that the Mac has built-in screen-capture functionality (such as Command-Shift-3 to take the whole screen) as well as the Grab utility for the same purpose, I'd be taking a week off.
Thanks for writing, but the truth is that the Apple-supplied means of taking screenshots are woefully inadequate for the needs of a software reviewer. The people who somehow got that I needed a truly high-end screenshot program all recommended Ambrosia Software's Snapz Pro X. Although this utility has some of the higher-end features I need, it doesn't have them all, and the interface is absolutely terrible. The fact that this product is a kernel extension may make some screenshots possible that otherwise would not be. But that's also a part of the reason why the interface makes the program difficult to use. Someone, anyone, make a better screenshot utility for the Mac. I promise a full review to any company that does this.
Let me suggest 10 features that I expect to find in a more advanced screenshot utility:
1. Image conversion among all major image formats and the capability to select a new default file format from among those image types.
2. A facility that lets you control default options for some file formats, like number of colors and quality/compression levels (as with JPEGs, for example).
3. Automatic, sequentially numbered file naming with user-specifiable root names (such as, "OSXLeop_###") and folder-save-to locations. It should also let the user specify the starting number of the file-naming sequence.
4. A capability that lets you optionally hide all but the Apple default desktop icons and other user customizations.
5. User-configurable screen-capture delay with audible and/or visible countdown. This feature is sometimes required to set up and capture open menus, drop-downs, and so on. There should also be an option to include or not include the mouse pointer.
6. Automatic selection of common object elements, such as program window, menu bar, toolbar, icons, the Dock, etc. (Apple's built-in Command-Shift-4-Spacebar key combination does this, but the facility is otherwise very limited). Snap-to selection for parts of objects is also very desirable. Any product that offers only a manual drag-selection tool for parts of the screen doesn't make the cut.
7. Important functionality: A capture-preview window that appears before you save the file, so you can review it and make appropriate alterations.
8. The capability to add basic (and preferably subtle) edge effects, such as rules, blurring, ripples, tear-aways, white borders, and so on.
9. The capability to make assisted selections within the preview to save as separate shots.
10. The ability to save named sets of settings (such as file format, image quality, file name and file-save location, and object selection type) that can later be called by the user to suit specific capture needs.
An advanced screenshot-capture program is really my biggest unfulfilled software need on the Mac. I have tested a long list of products and come up empty-handed so far. Some of the ones that come the closest are programs that were abandoned by program authors years ago. Continued support and a Universal binary are other important needs.
I have tried a very long list of Mac-based HTML editors suggested by scores of people. Thanks for your input! I neglected to mention that I have no interest at all in WYSIWYG HTML "editors." I'm a code in your hands guy. I've been creating HTML pages since 1994. FrontPage, for example, is anathema to me. The code it creates is junky and imprecise. The product I use under Windows, HomeSite, is unique. But the main things I like about it are:
There are a lot of other great features in HomeSite, but those are the ones that matter most to me.
A couple of smart readers (you know who you are, and thanks!) tipped me off to the fact that Adobe Dreamweaver 8's coding environment is based on the HomeSite software (which Macromedia bought several years ago, before it was in turn purchased by Adobe). There's a 30-day demo of Dreamweaver so I was able to download it and try it out for myself. Sure enough, Dreamweaver 8 incorporates HomeSite and it's a better version of the HTML editor than the one last one created for Windows. Eureka! I found my solution. And even though Dreamweaver is primarily a WYSIWYG tool, it can function either way. I look at that as a benefit too. Dreamweaver has always been the best WYSIWYG tool for mocking up new site designs.
But there's a problem. Dreamweaver costs $400. And while that's OK in the corporate world, it's a stretch for my budget. As a result, I've had to fall back on using HomeSite 5.5 under Windows running in Parallels on my Mac. That works just fine, for now. One day I'll figure out a way to give Dreamweaver a real test.
My Email Migration
A number of people have written me with suggestions about how I might have automated my Eudora-Windows-to-Eudora-Mac migration of mailboxes, filters, and address book. About 90% of the suggestions weren't useful in my case because of one or both of these the reasons: I already tried it and it didn't work, or it converts mailboxes but not email rules. That second point was especially important for me because I have over 500 mail-filtering rules. Since rules and mailbox names are inextricably linked in my environment (most of my rules route messages to a specific mail folder), the two had to be converted together.
Under the heading "I tried it already and it didn't work": Emailchemy, for example, didn't work in my situation. I might have used it for part of the process, but after looking at it, I realized it would have taken me as much work as I wound up doing anyway, plus I would have had to pay for it. I actually contacted Emailchemy's tech support to confirm this before I moved on. Apple offers the AppleScript utility for free, and I had high hopes for it, but I couldn't make it properly address the other tools involved. As it was, I wasted half a day playing with both AppleScript and BBEdit's TextFactory scripting facility before I opted to cut my time losses and solve the problem in the fastest, if least attractive, way. (But I'll come back to an AppleScript-based solution in a bit.)
Many people wrote me to suggest easy ways to convert line endings in text files. I actually didn't have any trouble with that aspect of the chore. Several products do that very well. The main problem was getting the Mac to open and recognize the Windows-created Eudora mailbox files as Mac Eudora mailbox files. That's two separate problems, actually.
The easier problem to figure out was how to make the Mac associate Windows-based .MBX (Eudora Mailbox files) as Mac files. It was just counterintuitive. The trick is to preserve the Windows file extension. I came across forum posts and help sites that gave me this technique; it's apparently needed more frequently under OS X than earlier Mac system software versions. It was an easy process to use the Mac's Get Info facility for one of these files and apply the Eudora association to all files with that extension.
The second problem that the Mac and its apps would not recognize these files (I couldn't open them in any application, and they appeared grayed out in File Open dialog boxes) took a bit longer to figure out. The only program with which I was able to open these files successfully was the TextWrangler (or its big brother, BBEdit) text editor. To open them in BBEdit, I had to drag and drop the .MBX file icons onto the BBEdit program icon. And it wasn't until I saved these mailbox files with BBEdit that the Mac began to recognize them. (Note: I tried several other text editors, and none of them solved the problem.) I decided to use BBEdit to set the new line endings because it was easy enough to do once I was in there. Besides, I found that text encoding was an issue with about 10% of my mailbox files, which required me to mess around in there anyway. Another 10% had a file-name length problem, requiring me to shorten the file name on the Mac. Since I had to work manually on some aspects anyway, it just made more sense to do everything in one place instead of running through separate batch processes.
The good news is that the Mac community is friendly and active, and a lot of people tried to help. The most promising suggestion came from a developer who solved the identical problem for himself by creating some AppleScript scripts using some development tools. Jay Batson is a programmer and CEO of Plum Canary, which makes the Chirp task and project management software for the Mac and Windows. While I haven't tested his Eudora migration scripts, he definitely understood the Windows-Eudora-to-Mac-Eudora migration problems and convinced me that he licked them. Check out Jay's SourceForge.net project, Switch Eudora, for downloadable (command-line based) help.
A last note about email: With my Mac environment becoming permanent, I'm giving thought to migrating again to Apple's Mail program, which I like quite a bit. The only thing really stopping me is the lack of export options out of Apple Mail. What if I don't like it? On other hand, it's not like Eudora's maker, Qualcomm, offered any help whatsoever, even for migrating between its own email software versions. I'm sure I can figure it out if I have to.
In other software news, I've spent a lot of time testing browsers (including Firefox, Safari, OmniWeb, Camino, and Opera). I've come to a hard conclusion: There is surprisingly no ideal browser on the Mac.
Like many Mac users, I have come to like Safari quite a bit, even though from a usability standpoint it has not kept pace with OmniWeb, Firefox, or Camino. (Let's hope that the new version of Safari coming in OS X Leopard 10.5 makes major strides. I have my doubts that it will.) On the plus side, Safari is lightweight, renders pages well, is fast, and delivers 80% of what I need.
After more time with Firefox on the Mac, I am less enthusiastic. I like the overall UI, but the product was not properly tested on the Mac platform. There are little things it doesn't do that it's supposed to do. For example, I'm big on putting Web icons on the desktop. Firefox doesn't preserve the titlebar text on Web site desktop icons. It can also take interminably long to load. There are other user-experience breaks too. Firefox 2 for the Mac lacks polish.
Camino has all the fit and finish that Firefox lacks, but it doesn't support extensions, isn't updated fast enough for my taste, and doesn't even offer the search box appended above the status bar one of Firefox's great little features. Camino is based on an older version of the Firefox Gecko browser, but its maker is marching to a different drummer than I want to march to. If Camino was basically Firefox properly refined for the Mac, it would own the Mac browser space. What a shame.
About Opera, well, I still don't like Opera. So what else is new? I love the features and the speed, but the user interface is quirky and annoying. Whenever I try to use it (on whatever platform), I find the experience a chore. In my book, a browser has to be fun to use; Opera isn't.
Finally, the browser I like the best overall is OmniWeb from Omni Group. But because of one specific feature, I just can't use it. Its makers will have to adopt a Firefox 2-like tabbed-browsing system before they get me. OmniWeb's tabbed browsing uses thumbnails of the Web sites running down the side of the browser window. That would be a nice option, but as the only tab UI, it uses too much space. The option to convert the thumbnails to text actually requires a bit more space, not less. I was supposed to meet with Omni Group at Macworld, but I wound up having to miss the show for business reasons. I didn't get to give them my feedback as a result. I hope this will suffice.
More Mac Software
I still haven't selected my one and only FTP package, but it's still between Yummy and CuteFTP. Both are running on my Mac very well.
For the moment, I'm running the FeedDemon RSS reader under Windows, but my intention is to give NetNewsWire for the Mac (which, like FeedDemon, was purchased by NewsGator) the first chance. I've used NetNewsWire before, and I just haven't found anything else I like as well. Three or four readers also suggested it.
One of the more esoteric utilities on my list is an RSS feed creation tool. I've been using Dan Bricklin's ListGarden for the past couple of years under Windows.
The fact that I was searching for a Mac solution was kind of funny, though. It turns out that Dan makes versions of this tool for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. So I'm all set.
This is an updated list of the Mac software that has been admitted to my regular-use list:
Do you have something you want to tell me about the Mac (or Windows, for that matter)? Drop me a line.
I currently have no plans to stop writing about Windows in this newsletter. I have Vista gold installed on four machines, including my main Windows computer (now relegated to second-fiddle status). At Computerworld, where I lead a team of editors, we have a long list of Windows Vista-related stories under development. For example, last Friday we published The Essential Vista Upgrade Guide, a step-by-step how-to article on installing Windows Vista smartly.
I am actively involved in developing Vista story concepts, and I continue to research Vista (and XP) issues as I have always done.
But that said, the Mac is now my main machine. I think you can expect more Mac coverage to creep into this newsletter. Also, let me be fully honest: I think you can expect less Linux coverage. Bruno of Amsterdam is fully able to continue contributing that coverage. But my lovely wife, Cyndy, who edited the newsletter's Linux content, recently took a full-time job and no longer has the free cycles. The copy-editing role has been taken over by professional copy editor Monica Sambataro, who also freelances extensively for Computerworld.
Bottom line: Scot's Newsletter is about all types of desktop operating systems. It supports a wide range of information about Windows, Mac, and Linux. One place where it does an exceptional job of this is at the Scot's Newsletter Forums (which is about to turn four years old). You'll find help and friendly information from people who care at the three main OS forums there. Check them out:
The Linux forum, in particular, has a large loyal community and is especially good at helping those new to Linux get up to speed. Bruno of Amsterdam is the lead moderator there, and also an Admin of the Forums. All Things Linux is also great at troubleshooting issues for more experienced users. The Windows forum is led by Microsoft MVP James M. Fisher and other highly knowledgeable moderators. And the All Things Mac forum has been a fledgling entity at Scot's Newsletter Forums for quite some time, but has recently been showing real signs of life.
Back to the issue at hand. I suspect that my switch to the Mac may make a lot of readers wonder whether they should continue taking this newsletter. If you're a Windows person and you've been a little on the fence about the newsletter, it wouldn't surprise me if you jumped off. I think you'd be making a mistake, of course. But I'll be watching closely to see whether people come or go. If the subscription list starts to dwindle, I may have to make a hard decision about its future.
The notion of a possible negative effect on the future of Scot's Newsletter complicated my decision to stick with the Mac. SFNL is nearly six years old, and still going strong. But I couldn't let that affect my decision. When I think of the scores of hours Windows users spend slogging through PC and Windows problems when I think of the money Windows users spend on third-party security software I have to wonder whether a little more money spent upfront on a better platform is really "more expensive." In the end, all I can do is tell the truth as I see it about the computing issues of the day. If I'm not giving you that, what's the point?
I'm looking for your input. How will my change of operating system preference affect your plans for continuing to take Scot's Newsletter?
If you check no other page on the Computerworld site, please check this one:
Dozens of great reviews as well as news, how-to, and analysis articles about Vista are listed and linked to on this page. If you're interested in Windows Vista, you will surely find useful, beneficial information there.
I'd also like to point out a handful of the latest Vista-related articles that you might not have seen yet:
Eset's Nod32 2.5 came in second last year, despite the fact that I had several criticisms of it. My assessment last year was based on a series of factors. But the most important criterion was that the utility run without bogging down the system and, basically, do no harm to your computer. Of course, catching the bad stuff was very important too.
Even though F-Secure's 2006 product skirted the primary requirement pretty finely, the user interface and the included anti-spyware module combined, in my mind, to make it a great value. What's more, F-Secure took me through a real-world test one that I didn't plan with flying colors. (Nod32 got other people through the exact same real-world test, by the way.)
But F-Secure has an Achilles' heel. It doesn't play nicely with other security apps. It has a tendency to create a mess if other security products are present even if they're not running. It has a tendency to pop up dialogs informing you that it can't install unless you uninstall this or that specific program. This was something I came across with F-Secure Anti-Virus 2006 only when I purposely installed it while AVG was running. And the process of uninstalling AVG worked so well in my test, that I felt comfortable recommending F-Secure.
I stand by last year's assessment, even though a couple dozen Scot's Newsletter readers had problems with F-Secure Anti-Virus 2006 or F-Secure Internet Security 2006 (which I did not recommend). That's more than I would have liked to see with my top product pick. Still, far more people wrote me that they'd had no trouble with F-Secure and were delighted with it as compared with the Norton, ZoneAlarm, or McAfee antivirus products.
A couple months after my recommendation, and after F-Secure officials promised me that they were working to make the product more tolerant of other security apps, the company released F-Secure Anti-Virus 2007. Overall, the product is marginally better in most regards. But in one very significant way, it's markedly worse. The first time I installed it, it forced me to remove the LiveUpdate online-updating module for Symantec's PartitionMagic before it would install. This is sheer stupidity. PartitionMagic isn't even a security utility. F-Secure's programmers must have unilaterally decided that because Symantec's security products use the same program-updating module, F-Secure won't co-exist with any instance of LiveUpdate. That was the moment that I finally gave up on F-Secure.
But the fun didn't stop there. Even though F-Secure Anti-Virus 2007 doesn't contain a real firewall, I began to get reports about conflicts with software firewalls with which F-Secure Anti-Virus 2006 had co-existed just fine. One of those programs is Kerio from Sunbelt Software, which is still one of my personal favorites among firewalls, even though some other products, such as Comodo Group's Comodo, have better test ratings. (For those of you wondering, I'm still working on a low-cost, outbound-oriented software firewall recommendation, but it's still a ways out. Comodo is a top contender in my evaluations, and I love Kerio's interface.)
Bottom line: I can accept an antivirus product gracefully preventing co-existence with another antivirus product. It's just good common sense. But when a product stupidly enforces the removal of products that it has no business conflicting with I'm done.
I am now reversing my recommendation on F-Secure. The 2007 product is not a good one. If you have F-Secure 2006 and it's working well for you, you're safe to ride out its license. But you should plan on making the switch then.
So why didn't I pick Nod32 last year? There were three main reasons:
1. It has a terrible interface. Part of the reason that's the case is that it's a lot more configurable and powerful than other AV products. Still, I knew that some of my readers were going to have a hard time setting it up properly. It's even easy to miss settings. Eset is planning to heavily revise the user interface in an upcoming release. My initial inclination was to wait for that revision, which will probably be called Version 3.0. (The 2.7 release's interface is nearly identical to the 2.5 version I reviewed last year.) But with F-Secure falling out of the running, Nod32 2.7 is the best choice, despite the user interface issues.
2. A lot of smart people disagree with me on this point, but I prefer an AV product that has outbound mail scanning. It's true, the most important scan is the inbound scan and Nod32 does that just fine. So why then does Nod32 offer an outbound scan for Microsoft Outlook clients but no others? I didn't (and still don't) like the double standard. Eset intends to eventually add outbound scans for other email programs, but Eset officials have told me that the company doesn't plan to do so until some time after the forthcoming 3.0 release.
3. As a Eudora user, I wasn't thrilled that Nod32 doesn't scan Eudora's text-based mailbox files on disk scans. (Other AV products have no trouble scanning Eudora mailboxes.) Nod32 just skips them, and if you force it to scan them, it will give you error messages. Eset has no intention of fixing this problem. While that doesn't mean Eudora users are unprotected (Nod32 scans everything that comes into your computer before it even gets to your mailbox files), it's not a good thing. Why does the product even offer a scheduled disk scan then? The best approach to security is not to rely too much on any one method of protection. Again, there's a double standard, and I dislike double standards.
Nod32's Shining Flip Side
What's good about Nod32 grows on you the more you use it, though. I have it running on four computers, and I've come to greatly admire it and trust it implicitly (though none of those PCs currently has Eudora on them.)
What makes Nod32 a great security utility? First, it's a tight application with a very small footprint. You will not notice any performance hit with Nod32. Second, once you figure out how to install and configure it properly, it operates silently. Third, it's extremely effective at its job. You will be protected. For more about Nod32 2.7, check out the Eset Nod32 Web site. (Plus, check out this story that explains how to configure harder-to-find settings in Nod32.)
Another aspect of Nod32 that I like is that it's inexpensive, and the company offers small multiple-license deals that are aimed at techies like us who may have multiple computers in their homes. As I did last year, you can buy four two-year Nod32 licenses for $148. That works out to $18.50 per year per PC (renewals are less expensive, so that's part of the savings). As an existing 2.5 license holder, the upgrade to Version 2.7 was free to me.
If the company's claims for the 2.7 are to be believed, it's even more effective against malware than 2.5 was. Eset's Nod32 2.7 marketing language claims it protects against viruses, spyware, malware, and rootkits. I know this to be true of the product, although in the past its makers stopped short of claiming it. I'm running 2.7 as my only virus/spyware/malware protection, opting to remove Spy Sweeper. Version 2.7 also supports Vista. I've had it running on a Vista machine for a couple of months.
Finally, one of the best things about Nod32 is its advanced architecture. Along with a handful of other AV products, Nod32 is out in front on a new, more advanced way of protecting against computer threats: the use of heuristics or behavioral modeling. This technology, though not new, is finally becoming significant. It watches for potential threats based on actions and tendencies. Nod32 doesn't rely solely on heuristics, but that type of protection makes it more likely to catch new variations or types of threats before anti-malware signatures are created for them.
There's no doubt in my mind that in 2007, Nod32 is the very best lightweight antivirus/anti-malware product you can buy for Windows XP, Vista, or Linux/BSD. My decision to crown it the Best Antivirus Product of 2007 came without hesitation even for Eudora users. No, it's not perfect. But it's clearly your best choice.
Even the registration is optional. Be completely anonymous if you want. Shark Bait was popular from Day One. Get in on the frenzy.
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