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Walkthrough: Installing Windows 7 RC under Parallels4

Posted on May 13, 2009 in Featured, Hints, Mac

Today I’m taking a look across the fence and am going to walk you through the installation of Windows 7 Release Candidate under Parallels 4.

The installation is pretty self-explanatory, however it did take me a few attempts to get the correct setup, as 7 isn’t officially supported by Parallels yet. But if you follow these steps, you’ll be up and ready in no time:

Download Windows 7

Head on over to the official Microsoft download page. You’ll need to sign in with a Windows Live ID, but you’ll get an activation key that’s valid for one year for your trouble.

Setting up your VM

Create a new virtual machine, select the .iso image and choose ‘Windows > Other Windows’ as the OS you’re going to install. Be sure to select a custom setup and assign your VM at least 512MB of RAM. Set the other options according to your preferences.

Update: If you download the latest version of Parallels 4, you now can also access an experimental Windows 7 option here instead. (Thanks Alex!)

Other windows

The installation

After you’ve configured your VM, Parallels will reboot using the Windows 7 .iso image. Follow the steps on screen and enter your Activation key when asked. This part is mostly smooth sailing, provided you’ve setup your VM correctly. If you selected other options (e.g. if you selected ‘Vista’ as your OS version), your installation may stall or throw other errors. In that case, double-check your VM settings, or start over with a new VM.

bootup

windows 7 installation progress

Installing Parallels Tools

Once your installation has completed, you’ll want to install Parallels Tools for Windows, in order to enable seamless mouse, clipboard and app switching between OS X and Windows 7. Select ‘Virtual Machine > Install Parallels Tools’ from the menu bar and wait for the installer to complete. Reboot when prompted and you should be all set! Now you can get to the real business of exploring the exciting new innovations that “7” offers:

windows 7 paint

Caveats

Some of the more interesting new Windows features such as Aero Peek and other UI changes won’t yet work, due to the limited graphics card drivers Parallels currently uses. But 7 still seems to run faster than Vista, given similar resources, and works well enough for everyday use.

Support the site: Buy Parallels 4 at Amazon.com

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Review: Røde Podcaster USB Microphone

Posted on May 6, 2009 in Featured, Reviews

Podcaster? Screencast creator? Amateur musician? If you’ve ever tried your hand at any of those, you’ve probably found yourself wondering how to record better audio with your Mac. There are many solutions out on the market, but most require a bunch of bothersome cables, fiddling with filters or an audio engineering degree.

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Enter the Røde Podcaster: This USB microphone promises to make recording professional-sounding audio with your Mac really simple. But does it live up to the promise?

What’s in the box

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The Podcaster comes in a sturdy black box: Apart from the mic itself, you’ll also find a USB A to USB B connector (the kind most printers require but never include), and an adapter ring for connecting the mic to a stand.

Build Quality

The microphone has a solid metal enclosure that gives it considerable heft and weight, but in a really good way. It has a fairly large pickup area that is also protected by the outer casing, which is good as the mic grill is something that is often damaged by knocks or drops on traditional microphone designs.

The adapter screw also doubles as the USB port enclosure and is also entirely made out of metal. This should also do wonders for this mic’s durability, as the stand adapter is often under a lot of strain on mics and can often crack if made out of plastic.

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The one minor gripe I have is the headphone volume control on the front of the mic: It’s made out of plastic and feels a bit wobbly and out of place on a mic this well made.rodepodcaster05

Audio performance

Probably the most important factor when choosing a mic: How good does it actually sound? Røde promise “High quality broadcast sound” and I’m pleased to tell you that the Podcaster delivers. It has an incredible textured sound that gives recordings a “studio” feel. It sounds very accurate without too much treble and produces clean, warm audio.

podcaster_stand

A normal recording setup requires:
– A mic
– A mixer with preamps and monitoring capabilities
– An audio interface

Whilst there are some solutions out there that can act as an interface as well as a mixer, this mic is so much quicker to get set up: A single cable to your Mac, plug in your headphones and you’re set. Ever tried to record decent audio without hearing yourself? Or without hearing your overall mix? Getting monitoring set up (without a delay!) is usually more trouble than it’s worth – the Podcaster solves that issue nicely and you have zero timing issues.

I’ve created a short audio snippet to give you an idea of the audio quality: Both the voice and guitar heard in this video were recorded with the Podcaster.

Compatibility

The Podcaster works out of the box with OS X: Just connect the USB cable and you’re all set. There are some Windows drivers and applications on the CD that’s included, but you can safely ignore those. Fire up Garageband, select one of the vocal presets and you’re good to go. It also shows up as an audio output device immediately as well.

Tip: Remember to turn off Garageband’s live monitoring feature if you use the Røde as your output device (the mic will already pipe your audio to your headphones) – otherwise you’ll start hearing yourself twice!

Conclusion

rodepodcaster03The Røde Podcaster is a great microphone for any Mac user. It is well suited to creating podcasts, screencasts, movie voiceovers and even recording music. The build-quality is almost flawless and it offers an ideal feature combination of features for fast and easy recordings.
I’ve found myself quickly recording song ideas and voiceovers, simply because it’s so much less hassle to do so (previously I had been using an interface with a traditional microphone, which usually required extensive setting up and configuration to get decent results).

The Podcaster includes a 10 year guarantee and is available online for around $229 – less than a traditional microphone, audio interface with mixing capabilities would cost you. The convenience and audio quality you get for that price is currently unmatched in my opinion.
Highly recommended.

Links:

Røde Podcaster manufacturer website

Support Jetplane Journal: Buy the Rode Podcaster at Amazon.com

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Review: Things – a stylish task management app for OS X

Posted on Apr 19, 2009 in Featured, Mac, Reviews

Things iconThings, a task-management application for OS X, debuted this year at Macworld after a lengthy public beta. Despite being Cultured Code‘s first foray into the world of task management apps, Things 1.x is an extremely polished, attractive app – but does it actually make you more productive? Read on to find out…

UI & Design

Cultured Code really nailed the visual presentation of Things: The UI is very “mac-like” and looks very nice. Features are easy to discover and UI elements are easily identified.

The list view Things uses to display your tasks feels as though it is very iPhone-inspired does a good job of displaying your tasks and metadata without clutter. Cultured Code make a point of not using the typical column-based layout you see in other apps, and only show the information you’ve entered – not empty columns.

Things main window

You won’t find any revolutionary UI innovations in Things, but the UI works and is well thought out – far more important in this type of application.

Ease of use

One issue I’ve had with other todo managers in the past has been the barrier of entry: Managing todos is something you can easily do with a pen & paper, so a dedicated application needs to offer functionality beyond that. However: if entering todos is too convoluted and time-consuming, you may question whether it’s worth the effort – particularly if the task isn’t that important, time-consuming or complicated. Task managers can only help you avoid “I’ll get to it in a minute”-syndrome if entering tasks doesn’t become its own chore.

Extremely stripped down managers tend to be too simple – preventing you from adding supplementary information or tags to your tasks. At the other end of the spectrum you have todo managers that are too complicated, overwhelming you with sub-categories and scheduling features – so you end up spending more time managing your tasks than completing them.

Things manages to strike a nice balance between those extremes. You can use it as a simple notepad to scribble down a list of things you need to get done, but you can also set up projects, repeating tasks and areas of responsibility, if you’re so inclined.

Quick Entry

To allow for even quicker task entry, Things offers a Quick Entry hud-panel, that can be activated via a system-wide keyboard shortcut. Tasks added via the panel will be discreetly added to your Inbox, allowing you to continue working on whatever you happen to be doing.

Quick Entry

Tagging

tag editorThings offers powerful tagging features, offering some features that cause clutter in other task management apps: You can of course just assign regular keywords, but Cultured Code also suggests assigning your tasks time estimates, difficulty ratings and priority levels. Using tags to add that sort of metadata is a very clever way of hiding complexity: Users that don’t need that kind of detail won’t be distracted by those fields cluttering up the task entry interface, but power users still get the features they need.

Adding tags to your tasks is also nicely supported: In addition to iPhone-esque tag autocompletion, Things also intelligently assigns each tag a keyboard shortcut. Just select a task and hit the corresponding letter on your keyboard to tag it. Shortcuts can be edited later on, but by automatically assigning keyboard shortcuts, Things removes another step on your path to productivity.

Syncing

Under preferences, you’ll find syncing options for iCal and a companion iPhone application, which I’ll be reviewing separately soon. Those two options make it simple to get your tasks onto your mobile device, but there’s no built-in support for Mac-to-Mac syncing. But Things does support selecting your own library location, so you can easily set up syncing using a free Dropbox account.

Suitability for students

Students will appreciate the flexibility Things offers: You can choose to create Projects for some more involved courses, or just add your assignments and reading requirements to a semester-specific project or area of responsibility.

For team projects, the ability to delegate certain tasks to teammates is also very useful, helping you to keep track of jobs and follow-up with collaborators if necessary. On campus the iPhone application has proven invaluable, as it allows me to quickly make a note of something I can later follow up with when I sync up with my MacBook.

(And if you think Things is a bit expensive on a student’s budget, be sure to check out Cultured Code’s generous educational pricing offer!)

project view

Hidden gems

While preparing this review, I found myself frequently coming across little points of detail in the application, that just go to show how much attention to detail was paid by the development team:

  • Ability to print lists with several formatting options
  • Support for teammates, including iChat status indicators and Address Book integration
  • Automatic regular database backups
  • The Things wiki is full of useful tips and scripts, such as a useful ‘Mail to Things inbox’ script

Conclusion

Things has definitely helped me get organized and plan out my university assignments, work to-dos, personal projects and other errands. It’s easy to pick up the habit of adding even mundane tasks to your Things inbox and there’s nothing more satisfying than crossing off something you’ve completed.

The intuitive interface makes it easy to enter to dos, but also allows you to focus on certain tasks and plan out your day – something more basic task managers usually don’t offer.

But most important of all: Things stays out of your way and allows you to focus on your tasks and not on managing them, allowing you to get things done.

Things is available for $49.95 or $34.95 after educational discount. Be sure to check out the free demo!

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Dropbox tip: Store documents there!

Posted on Apr 12, 2009 in Featured, Hints, Mac

dropboxdocssyncWe’ve talked about Dropbox here before on the site, but did you know that you can use Dropbox for more than just storing files? If you use multiple Macs, you may also want to store some of your application data on Dropbox, allowing you to keep your todo lists, passwords, clippings and other data in sync across all your machines. Of course you could also do the same with a USB drive or MobileMe iDisk, but the instantaneous syncing Dropbox does makes this very practical for users who use multiple Macs a lot.

So far I’ve tested Dropbox syncing with the following apps:

  • 1Password: Involves a few steps, but Agile has also written a great setup guide.
  • VoodooPad: Just drag your .vpdoc files to your Dropbox and you’re all set.
  • The Hit List: Just move the library file from “~/Library/Application Support/The Hit List/The Hit List Library.thllibrary” to your Dropbox, hold down the Option key while launching The Hit List and select the file on your Dropbox.
  • Things: Setup is similar to The Hit List, a user-contributed how-to is also available.

Most other applications can probably also be synced using one of the methods above, provided they support a custom library location or use documents to store your data. I have yet to run into any issues, however there are a few things you’ll want to look out for, to preserve your data integrity:

  • Try to avoid running your synced applications on both Macs at the same time – otherwise you might run into “lost updates” and other syncing conflicts
  • Occasionally check your Dropbox folder for aforementioned conflicts: Dropbox doesn’t give you a lot of warning if there are conflicts, so take a look every now and then to see if there is a “sync conflict” folder in your Dropbox.
  • Make sure you have the same version of the application on both Macs.
  • Your preferences are usually stored in a different location than your data, so don’t be surprised if those aren’t synced

Tip: if you sign up for free using this referral link, you’ll get an extra 250MB storage.

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First Look: Lounge for OS X

Posted on Apr 2, 2009 in Featured, Mac, Reviews

picture-13Stop the presses tweets! There’s a new Twitter app in town!

For a while now Twitterific has ruled the roost when it comes to desktop apps for OS X. This is primarily due to the fact that there actually aren’t that many decent Mac clients around, despite the plethora of options for the iPhone.

(Note: Yes, there are a whole host of Air apps, iChat plugins, multi-purpose social updaters and Dashboard widgets, but I’m only talking about Cocoa-based, OS X-ish Mac apps.)

That’s about to change: Bluebird, Beak and Lounge are three new OS X native apps announced for release this Spring.

First impressions

Lounge for the Mac is still very much a work in progress, but is already quite stable and reliable. The UI makes it easy to access all the Twitter features you’ve come to expect and the ability to save searches as Groups is also very useful. Unlike some apps the UI doesn’t try to overwhelm you with multiple message lists. Support for multiple accounts, retweeting, a Services menu and the ability to ‘drill down’ into people’s @replies, user profiles and links rounds out the experience.

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One feature that I’m particularly fond of is the ability to sync your read-status with the iPhone companion app that is already available on the App Store.

Pricing for the Mac version of Lounge hasn’t yet been announced, but you can test drive the beta version until its expiration date, July 1st.

Gripes

Lounge still lacks some features such as Picture support, built-in url shortening etc. that some users will probably miss, but it’s early days yet…

Conclusion

Definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for a slightly different take in the desktop Twitter app genre.

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OS X Bittorrent clients compared – 2009 Edition

Posted on Mar 30, 2009 in Featured, Mac, Reviews

bittrightThere have always been a number of decent Bittorrent clients for OS X, however it’s only the last year or two that we’re finally seeing some competition in this area. For the purposes of this shootout I’ve decided to focus only on the clients that are updated semi-regularly. For that reason I haven’t reviewed clients such as BitRocket and Xtorrent, that haven’t been updated since the beginning of 2008.

The candidates

Based on the criteria outlined above, I’ve selected four popular clients that are under active development to compare. All of these clients are free and Leopard compatible.

Transmission

Transmission is a cross-platform client with a clean and simple interface that also boasts a small memory footprint. But underneath the relatively simple UI, there are a range of advanced features for power users as well, including an iPhone optimized web interface that allows you to monitor and manage your torrent downloads remotely.

transmission

uTorrent for OS X

uTorrent has been one of the most popular clients for Windows, largely due to its small memory footprint. So when the team announced a Mac version last year, it generated a lot of interest. uTorrent now belongs to BitTorrent Inc. and the Official Client is apparently at least partially based on uTorrent code.

uTorrent for Mac is currently still in beta, but it already supports most of the features that Transmission offers. The UI is sleek and performance is pretty good as well.

utorrent

The official Bittorrent Client

As mentioned above, the Official Client is based on uTorrent code, so performance should be comparable. However: the UI of the official client is currently still Java based, and its feature-set is quite different as well.

officialclient

Vuze (formerly known as Azureus)

Vuze easily has the most configuration options of all the clients featured in this roundup, boasting a Firefox-like plugin architecture and media transcoding for popular devices. But all those features do come at a price. The java-based interface stands out like a sore thumb on OS X and even when idle RAM consumption weighs in at a hefty 110MB.

vuze

Testing

The clients were compared by their memory footprint, (as far as can be ascertained by a user), feature-set and performance while downloading. The most important criteria – download speed – is also the most difficult to measure as factors such as number of seeders, network congestion etc. all play a role. So for purposes of this review, I downloaded the heavily-seeded Ubuntu 9.0.4 .iso torrent with each client to get an estimate if any app stood out. However the results are only a general indication of performance and shouldn’t be seen as absolute numbers.

The Results

chartmid

As you can see, the speed results are close, so I’d call that a draw. Transmission and uTorrent are quite close when it comes to memory consumption. A lot of other features are quite comparable, so it mostly comes down to memory consumption and how picky you are about your user interfaces.

And the winner is…

For me personally, Transmission is the ideal balance between feature-richness and performance. Despite it’s cross-platform roots, it’s lightweight and fast, much like uTorrent, but has one or two features that the latter doesn’t. Vuze is great if you’re looking for a feature-packed client, but in my opinion it’s a bit too cluttered and tries to do too much. Both Vuze and the Official Client also a bit slow for my liking, but you might want to check out Vuze for some of it’s more advanced features such as automatic transcoding of video content.

Bonus tip: Be sure to check out Gizmodo’s article on how to improve your download speeds, – it makes a difference!

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