Apple’s Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Launches Tomorrow Morning

According to the reporting on MacRumors.com here of today’s financial conference call by Apple, the new version of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion will be released on Wednesday, July 20. It will be available as a digital download through Apple’s App Store, which is built into the latest version of 10.6 Snow Leopard. The new OS will download and install from an already installed version of Snow Leopard. According to the instructions on OSXDaily.com here, you can create a clean install bootable DVD after purchasing and downloading Lion through the App Store. Good luck with your upgrades!

Mac OS X 10.6.8 Available for Download, Last Update to Snow Leopard before Lion?

Mac OS X 10.6.8 Combo Update is now available from Apple here. It is also available through Software Update. Will this be the last update to Snow Leopard before Mac OS X 10.7 Lion is released for digital distribution through the Mac App Store in July 2011?

If you are still running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, Apple also released a new security update that is available here.

 

Apple Announcements from WWDC 2011: iCloud, iOS 5, and Lion

I missed the big announcements from Apple on Monday, because I went on a two day trip to Niagara Falls with my lovely wife and my emerging cosmopolitan parents. We had a great time in Canada and New York, but it is nice to get caught up with the digital goings-on tonight.

iCloud is probably the biggest announcement: 5GB of free storage in the cloud (Apps, eBooks, purchased music, and Photos are free). If this service really works as well as promised, you will be able to seamlessly access your content across any Apple device (iPhone, iPad, or Mac). More information is available here.

There was no iPhone 5 announcement, but Apple delivered the goods with iOS 5–the next iteration of the iOS platform. The big features include setting up an i-device without needing to own/use a computer and wireless syncing of your i-device data if you do use it with a computer. There will be new camera, gesture, and notification technologies built-in, too. Go here for a rundown of the new features.

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion was given a July 2011 launch date. Perhaps more interesting than the new technologies wrapped into the latest version of Mac OS X is the fact that it will be available for immediate download through the Mac App Store. This means you can purchase and download it over the Internet without needing to buy bits packaged in a cardboard box from the corner store (Larry Ellison’s biggest gripe about software distribution). TUAW, however, offers a guide here on how to burn a bootable Lion install disc after you purchase the installer from Apple.

Other tidbits: iTunes is now available as “iTunes in the Cloud beta” version 10.3 here. Also, iBookstore is now part of iTunes (finally!).

Mac OS X Folk: Run Software Update to Protect Against MacDefender

Apple rolled out the new Mac Security Update 2011-003 to address threats posed by the latest family of malware under the MacDefender moniker. Keep your system up-to-date with Apple’s built-in Software Update program (Apple menu > Software Update), and if your system is infected by MacDefender, the security update will helpfully nuke it.

After you install the update, consider protecting yourself with some advice that I offered in a previous post.

Stay safe in cyberspace!

Protect Yourself from MacDefender Malware on Mac OS X, Some Advice on Secure Systems

Many online news sites (here, here, and here) have been talking about the more visible threat to Mac OS security called “MacDefender” aka “MacProtector” aka “MacSecurity.” Initially, it was a bit of malware that would download from poisoned sites and request your account password to allow full access to your system. Now, it can infect your Mac OS X installation without your providing your password. In both cases, it would also try to obtain your credit card information in order to provide “protection” (read: extortion). Apple provides a How to avoid or remove Mac Defender malware guide on their website before the next software update for Mac OS X 10.6 is available, which will remove and protect your OS from nasties like the so-called MacDefender.

There are some easy ways to avoid this and other kinds of malware and virus infections on Mac OS X.

First, you should not be logged into an admin account. You should create a standard user account for your daily activities, and only use the admin account when you install new software. For both accounts, you should create inventive and hard to guess passwords.

Second, if you use Safari for browsing, you should disable the open safe files feature in Safari > Preferences > uncheck Open Safe Files.

Third, be aware of the files that you download and the sites that you visit online. Don’t open something unless you know exactly what it is.

Fourth, keep your OS updated at all times!

Fifth, consider running an open source anti-virus solution for Mac OS X called ClamXav, which you can learn more about here. Even with this level of protection, beware. One commenter from early May 2011 on MacUpdate.com said that ClamXav didn’t detect MacDefender.

Sixth, Apple provides security configuration guides for Mac OS X here. The National Security Agency (NSA) provides their own security advice for Mac OS X here.

Enable TRIM in Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard for Speed and Longer SSD Life

Lifehacker’s Whitson Gordon has an easy to follow how-to guide on “[Enablng] TRIM on Your Macs Solid-State Drive .” TRIM is a feature on many SSDs (solid state drives) that prolongs their service life while increasing performance.

I followed the guide for my 120 GB Intel SSD (model INTEL SSDSA2M120G2GC), and I immediately saw my MacBook 5,1 system boot time decrease from about a minute to approximately 30 seconds. In case there were any problems, I did backup my Mac OS settings (Groth’s program has a backup button that you can’t miss) before applying the patch.

The important thing to consider is that this only works on SSDs that support TRIM, and if you do successfully apply this to your system, you should run the cache cleaning commands in the article.

If things do not work correctly for you, don’t forget that you can boot into Safe Mode (hold down Shift while booting), rerun Oskar Groth’s Trim Enabler for Mac, restore your old, non-TRIM settings, and reboot normally.

Happy TRIMming!

After Reinstall, Watching P2P Work in World of Warcraft

I like to reinstall my OS every few months to keep things tidy and fully functional on my MacBook 5,1. In a typical nuke-and-pave operation, I format my hard drive and then install the OS with most customizable options unchecked to save space. Then, I configure the firewall and other security features before installing all updates. Following that, I begin installing applications that I regularly use (iPhoto, Microsoft Office 2011, Seashore, VLC, and World of Warcraft). Next, I update any of those applications that have newer versions available (Service Pack 1 for Office 2011, and several GBs of new content for World of Warcraft–more on this later). I copy back my backed up files back to the MacBook’s internal hard drive, and point iTunes to my external media storage space (due to iPhone and iPad backups and my addiction to iTunes U, I cannot keep the iTunes media folder on my MacBook’s internal SSD, or solid state drive).

During the reinstallation process this time, I took a look at how World of Warcraft updates itself. I knew that it uses P2P (peer-to-peer) technology to distribute software updates from Blizzard to users and then between users themselves (see above). This method reduces Blizzard’s networking overhead and cost, because users can help one another update their software without any user intervention thanks to the updating mechanisms built into Blizzard’s video game. What I find particularly cool about Blizzard’s implementation of P2P, something already well established in the opensource software crowd, is that P2P is not something that is inherently bad. As some folks from the RIAA or MPAA might assert, P2P is solely a means of distributing illegally copied files between computer users. However, the technology of peer-to-peer file sharing and software distribution is not inherently meant to evade paying for software. Instead, it is a novel means of distributing files and networking resources (e.g., Tor) between P2P users. It turns the old networking, top-down model on its head. With P2P, the network spreads out rather than simply from a single point of distribution outward. For businesses like Blizzard, this helps reduce their costs for an otherwise large downstream of data to users like me who reinstall their programs regularly. For users, this allows for the easy updating of software that is more dependent upon their own Internet pipe and its size for the incoming stream of data from many users (see below).

I have intentionally blurred the IP addresses and Blizzard IDs of the users within the P2P network who were helping me update my software, but you can see that each line above represents another computer user who is streaming tiny bits of the rather large 3.85 GB of updates for World of Warcraft’s latest installment, Cataclysm. As these files are downloaded, the World of Warcraft updating software on my computer pieces everything back together and verifies with a hash tag that the downloaded software is legitimate (i.e., not compromised with bad data or a virus).

Time Warner’s Road Runner Internet service in Northeast Ohio, at least in Kent, is anything but road runner-fast. So, I did have to stop the transfer during the evening so that Y could use the Internet, too. I did not find a way to throttle the P2P updating feature from within the World of Warcraft software. When we went to bed last night, I started the updater again, and it was done when I woke up this morning.

P2P is not all bad, and there are certainly good uses for it. I think it was a wise decision on Blizzard’s part to incorporate it into World of Warcraft. Will other companies like Microsoft or Apple add this to their OS updates? It is hard to say, because I believe that security is the one concern about distributing software in this manner. When the software is released into the wild for P2P distribution, a vulnerability could be found and exploited.

Issues of Apple App Store Digital Distribution of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion

According to AppleInsider on their forums [Apple to release Mac OS X Lion through Mac App Store – sources – AppleInsider], Apple plans to move to a digital distribution model for the upcoming Mac OS X 10.7 codenamed Lion.

Apple’s App Store for iPhone, iPad, and iPod and now the App Store for Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard are the culmination of something Larry Ellison advocated way back in the 1990s. He said in effect why are bits boxed? He argued that bits should be carried through the network to computers rather than carried on media like CDs or DVDs. Apple seems to be further shifting to this model with this rumored distribution model for the next operating system.

I am not so sure how much I like this idea for the operating system. For distributing applications, I think that digital distribution is great. Unfortunately, more ISPs are wrongly implementing download caps. Additionally, it will increase the time for reinstallation for those of us who like to reinstall the OS every so often to maintain a clean computer workspace.

CmdrTaco on Slashdot commented on this change by writing, “A lot of questions surrounding this related to the ability to make bootable disks. And also, why don’t they just use apt-get? I gotta admit: it makes me nervous getting my OS from an App Store — which is strange considering how many kernels I’ve downloaded, built and booted over the years” [from here]. I have to agree with him that there is much that we do already to get software online–including OS kernels for Linux (Ubuntu in my case). I suppose the big difference is that with open source software, the bits aren’t controlled by a corporate overload. In Apple’s case, they will control access to those bits. If they follow their current model for third party software in their App Store, they will allow you to re-download software as many times as you want while you are logged into your account. Unfortunately, they will ultimately hold the keys to the kingdom and those policies could change.

I will write about cloud computing and cloud storage in a future post, but I will say now that I believe these issues of digital distribution and personal file storage in the cloud are interrelated. Both depend on access to the network and access to files stored “out there” in the cloud. I am a proponent of personal, local control of my files and the software that I license.

More Mac OS X Resource Savings: Disable AirPort Base Station Agent

I peeked at the running apps on my MacBook using the /Applications/Utilities/Activity Monitor application, and I wondered about the AirPort Base Station Agent. I haven’t had an Airport Base Station since I lived in Atlanta, so I certainly didn’t want another background daemon running for a product that I don’t use. Following a quick Google search, I found this helpful how-to: Disable AirPort Base Station Agent. According to OSXDaily, you can permanently disable this background program by going into /Applications/Utilities/Airport Utility, click on Airport Utility menu > Preferences, and uncheck all options. Then, quit Airport Utility. Thereafter, you shouldn’t see the AirPort Base Station Agent running in the background. This gives you a very small resource savings.