Archive for March, 2009

Simple Syncing

March 29, 2009  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Moving from one office computer to several office computers is a big jump. Plenty of solutions will work well on one computer, but not so well on multiple computers (see, e.g., Bento). You don’t even need a large office to move into multi-computer territory. For a long time my wife was a true solo, but still wanted to be able to work from her desktop and her laptop.

There are a couple of solutions for accessing files in the multi-computer environment. One solution is to have a central server to which all the computers connect to access work files. This simplifies administration somewhat, but it doesn’t work well in an offline environment (such as the aforementioned laptop). Another solution is to store the files on each computer but use software to keep the two or more computers in sync. This is the solution my wife uses in her practice.

I have been quite skeptical of syncing software for a long time. I don’t have a horror story from my youth that has scared me away from it. But it just sounds dangerous – running a program every few minutes that deletes and updates files based on its own internal calculations. So if we were going to use syncing software, it would need to be bulletproof (or at least make me feel like it is bulletproof).

The first syncing application my wife investigated was DropBox. DropBox seems like a very capable solution, but it has some limitations for the Mac law office. First, DropBox seems to sync a single folder and it has to be the “DropBox” folder. It’s a little clumsy to have a folder named “DropBox” be the primary repository for business documents. I didn’t investigate whether the folder could be renamed because of the second problem: DropBox doesn’t play well with FileVault. Depending upon the kind of law you practice and which state you practice in, FileVault (or something like it) is somewhere between strongly recommended and mandatory. So DropBox was out.

Coming along at exactly the right time was Syncplicity. This little application works great. It supports FileVault without any hitches. You can synchronize any number of folders – named anything you want. This is especially useful in an estate planning practice. Many estate planning attorneys use Windows drafting software. Using Syncplicity, my wife can draft an estate plan in Windows (under VMware Fusion) and have it sync over to the Mac folder almost instantly. Because the drafting folder is a different folder, the entire collection of business documents doesn’t need to be synced onto Windows (which would mean storing two copies of each document on the computer, one copy for Mac OS X and one copy for Windows.

It hasn’t all been roses. A few times, for no reason my wife can ascertain, multiple copies will appear as if someone was editing a file even though the file wasn’t open on any other computers. This is a minor quibble, though, because it only happens about once every couple of months and no data has been lost. The real complaint we have is that Syncplicity won’t sync empty folders to other computers. Empty folders do appear in the online view of your files. But they won’t be synced to other computers (I even asked, and this is the way Syncplicity is intended to work). So, alas, Syncplicity isn’t perfect. But it has helped my wife be productive and kept her documents complete across different offices.

New iPod Shuffles, That Talk!

March 11, 2009  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Apple released new iPod Shuffles today. They’re tiny. And they also talk. I admit that I was wrong about whether Apple would implement such a feature.

Apple sidestepped the need to add hardware (other than a button) to the shuffle by generating the voiceover on your Mac (one of those, *smack head*, “I should have thought of that” moments). I still can’t see the benefit of speaking the song name. Maybe other people just aren’t as into their music as I am. On the other hand, if you’re going to add playlists and speak the playlist name, you might as well go all the way.

New Macs (as if you didn’t know)

March 4, 2009  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Apple announced new Macs across the entire desktop line yesterday (Mac Pro, iMac, and Mac Mini). I’ve been in the market for a new iMac, so these updates are very welcome (although with the economy being the way it is, the rush to buy one has subsided just a little).

Still, there’s lots to like about the updates. I am most impressed with the changes to the Mac Mini. The Mini has long lagged the iMac in four key performance-related areas: processor, memory, memory speed, and hard drive speed. Now it looks like we’re down to three. The Mac Mini and the iMac both sport a 1066MHz front side bus. Prior to Tuesday’s updates, the iMacs raced along at 800MHz while the Minis were saddled with a 667MHz FSB. Unfortunately, the Minis are still limited to 5400rpm hard drives. That may have made sense at one time, but now 7200rpm hard drives are even available on Macbook Pros. It’s time to let the Mini catch up.

The iMacs saw a nice boost too. The big shock for me was the switch from two 20″ models and two 24″ models to a single 20″ model and three 24″ models. For me, the 24″ model never made sense before. For the price of the cheapest 24″ iMac, you could almost buy a 20″ iMac and a 20″ Apple Cinema Display (this model has since been discontinued but it was still available when I purchased my current iMac). If you’re willing to step outside the Apple Store and buy a non-Apple display, you could definitely have made that purchase. I would much rather have two 20″ displays side-by-side than a single 24″ display. The reason for this seemingly crazy pricing situation is that Apple bundled better processor and graphics into the cheapest 24″ iMac. If you don’t need that extra horsepower, the larger monitor becomes a very pricey upgrade.

Now things are entirely different. The cheapest 24″ iMac comes in at $1499 with a larger hard disk and more memory. But I can see lots of people wanting to upgrade to 4GB of RAM (a must in my opinion!) and 640GB hard drive (320GB is becoming “small”). Upgrading the 20″ iMac to comparable RAM and hard drive brings the price to $1374. In my opinion, $125 is a small price to pay for the larger screen real estate.

I don’t have much to say about the Mac Pros. My last true desktop was an 867MHz Mirror Drive Doors PowerMac. I can get so much done on a laptop or iMac that I would be wasting my money to buy a Mac Pro. Still, I enjoy pricing one out occasionally to see what kind of ridiculous specs and prices are available. A dual 2.93GHz, 32GB RAM, 1TB HD model currently rings up at just over 12 grand. At least there is free shipping.