iOS and Mac Synergy Makes all the Difference

A Story of Two Apps

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In the past, I have written about my attempts to throw away my laptop for an iPad. In my case, it never works because I’m simply too dependent on a keyboard and multitasking. However, this is not to say that the iPad or iPhone cannot have a valuable place in my workflow. Indeed, the beauty of well-designed iOS apps is that they overcome the problems I have described, creatively functioning without the need for keyboard or other applications to be simultaneously accessed. Panic’s Prompt app for iOS makes this point perfectly, offering a traditional SSH/Telnet shell client with support for code snippets and bookmarks. But this is just the start of a good iOS app. In the end, I still need deep integration (dare I say, synergy?) with my computers upon which I depend daily.

So, after using Prompt on my iPad, I was somewhat devastated to learn there was no companion application for my Mac. On the Mac side of things, I have long used the Terminal and SnippetsLab to do remotely maintain servers. Terminal provided access to the remote command line interfaces and SnippetsLab stored and organized all of my frequently-used code. Using Prompt made me realize that I should be using an application that marries the functions of Terminal and SnippetsLab. If I could do it on my iPad, certainly I could do it on my Mac.

Unfortunately, Panic does not make a Mac companion application for Prompt. I was hoping the Mac version could sync all of my credentials, snippets, and hosts to its iOS buddies, but alas. This then led me down the path to find an app that might live up to my hopes. I ultimately found vSSH - a multi-platform application that does it all on all of the devices I use.

vSSH is not as pretty as Prompt, but it’s ability to cross platforms makes it (and my iPad) truly useful to me. The lesson is that for consumers like me (Mac-loving geeks, nerds, and dorks working in IT), an iPad is only truly useful if it leverages the power of a full fledged computer. Again, it would take me a long time to manually type in all of the code and credentials into Prompt. It is much easier to get this info in vSSH via my MacBook and then sync with my iPad. In this way, the iPad is an extension of my computer.

When I think about it, all of the apps I use on my iPad really are extensions of my other computers. Apps like Dropbox, Evernote, Gmail, iA Writer, and CloudMagic all have companion apps on the Mac. The iPad’s portability is truly useful, especially if I need to review something I have already prepared on my computer. When used in this fashion, the iPad really becomes a luxury item because it does not really do anything I cannot do using a laptop. However, good iPad applications add something to the mix that cannot be done in the Mac counterpart. For example, I can swipe through emails much quicker on the iPad than I can with a keyboard on the Mac.

So, take from this what you will, but for the iPad, or any tablet, to make it in my workflow, I need synergy between the tablet and my computers. That last sentence makes me want to throw up, but I spew the truth.

The OS Anxiety Fallacy

Outdated Operating Systems Need Love Before Upgrades

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The immense pressure brought to bear on consumers by Microsoft in its push to move users to Windows 10 has once again revealed the dangers unplanned upgrades can wreak on unprepared users. For a vast majority of home and enterprise users, Windows 10 offers very little tangible benefit against a myriad of potential pitfalls such as software and hardware incompatibility. Ultimately the question becomes, “when is it necessary to upgrade a computer’s operating system?” The first answer is, of course, “it depends,” but most likely, upgrading is not worth it, especially with older hardware.

It would be unfair to simply lob volleys at Microsoft; every major operating system goes through near-annual upgrades, especially my beloved OS X (soon to be macOS). The arguments for upgrading typically utilize fear-mongering, focusing on security concerns. New features are often added, as well, along with stability improvements. So why not upgrade?

The most common issues arise with older software and hardware. Sometimes these problems are alleviated by patches offered by suppliers, but often not by the time of the new OS launch. Moreover, we live in a beta culture where software testing is often left to users in the months following a major release. The Windows Vista launch immediately comes to mind: a perfectly stable operating system (Windows XP) was replaced by a perfect mess (Windows Vista). This mess was never actually fixed in large part until the release of the next version, Windows 7.

There are also many users who run one or two irreplaceable programs on their computers that will never run on a new operating system. This often occurs with proprietary and custom software (imagine those DOS programs used by auto repair shops across America). These programs can sometimes be run virtually, but virtualization is also not a process to be taken lightly. For these types of users, the operating system is simply a means for the programs they need to communicate with the hardware. There is absolutely no benefit to upgrading an OS in these circumstances.

So what about those security arguments made by OS manufacturers? They are not baseless, but they are vastly overblown. By and large, as long as you have a functional and modern firewall at the head of your network, take care with regard to the websites you visit and the email you open, and you regularly backup your computers, you should be fine. It would make sense not to use an unsupported operating system for email or web browsing, but even these activities should be safe provided the programs you are using are still actively maintained. For example, Windows XP still works great with Firefox and Thunderbird loaded for web browsing and email.

The important thing to take from all of this is that operating systems should be upgraded on the user’s schedule, not the manufacturer’s schedule. Microsoft has an especially horrid track record of dismal upgrades and lackluster support. Now, Windows 10 has actually been a relatively smooth process compared to past upgrades, but plenty of users will awaken to Windows 10 on their computer and a list of software that no longer works. While Microsoft makes the downgrade process rather simple, the automatic upgrade “feature” is far too aggressive for me.

In my own work, I have clients running printing machines on Windows 98, color-matching software on Windows 2003, and system backups powered by Mac Snow Leopard. Old operating systems have a place, especially when they have been painstakingly optimized over many years. Upgrading has its place too, but try not to underestimate the concomitant costs.

Best Fix for OS X Calendar Exchange Sync Issue

One client of mine has had particular difficulty with the Mac OS X 10.8 Calendar program and events on their Office 365 Exchange Server. They frequently receive the error: Calendar can’t save the event “event name” to the Exchange Server when attempting to delete events with invitees.The problem events seem to be limited to events imported from an older server.

I have tried many different fixes, including removing and setting up the Exchange calendar, which seems to temporarily fix the problem. Ultimately, however, the error rears its ugly head, but I have seemingly found the secret sauce:

1. Delete the problem event from the online Office 365 portal.

2. Close Calendar and Mail on the Mac in question.

3. Navigate to ~/Library/Calendars and rename the “Calendar Cache” file to “Calendar Cache (OLD).”

4. Upon restarting, Calendar will rebuild the problem Exchange calendar without incident.

So far so good - I’ll post if the problem returns.

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Technological Simplicity

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