What Magic Does Apple Hold for Next Week?

The new iPhone announcements expected next week are exciting, but I am mostly interested in updates for Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. I have read many posts online from folks about their Lion experience, specifically about speed and multitasking, and it seems like certain hardware configurations fare better than others. My MacBook 5,1 seems to get the short end of the stick despite having 8GB of RAM. If the RAM gets about 3/4 used and even though there is still physical RAM left for apps to use, my MacBook becomes sluggish, sometimes to the point of needing a reboot to return to normal responsiveness. The issue has become such a pain that I am considering reinstalling Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Before I do that, I am going to wait and see if the next update for Lion, v 10.7.2, is also released to coincide with the iTunes update for iCloud.

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.

 

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.

Refreshing Reinstall and Another PKD Novel

I hadn’t done a full OS reinstall on my MacBook since I originally got it, so I decided last night to remedy the situation with a clean nuke-and-pave of MacOS X 10.6.2 Snow Leopard. As you can see from the screenshot above, I am back up and running with 10.6.2. NeoOffice and CS4 along with a handful of other software goodies are reinstalled, and my files are restored to their rightful places on my hard drive. One thing that I decided to do differently, that I had never tried before, was to encrypt my home folder with FileFault. I know that this can cause a real problem when something goes wrong, but I backup my files often enough that I hope it won’t turn into a nightmare if the FileFault system develops a problem. So far, I haven’t noticed any performance hit or problem by using FileFault, despite copying back many files to my internal SSD.

While everything was being done, I finished Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. I will read A Scanner Darkly next and then switch back to some postmodern theory.