Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mac'ing It: Living in a Multi-Computer World

With the new Mac in the house, it's been time to adjust how I manage basic logistics (backups, email, calendars, etc)

The situation is complicated by also running MS Vista on my new machine (via Parallels Desktop in a virtual machine)

Clearly, we're all going to have to deal with more and more virtual computers over time, even if they're all running on the same hardware. Virtualization is amazingly powerful and convenient, but keeping the basics (contacts, files, bookmarks, etc.) in sync between all these environments becomes a challenge.

Here is what I've settled on to keep my OSX environment in sync with my online environment, and MS Vista and MS Windows XP environments.


Email, Calendar, and Address Book
Email is probably the easiest. For years my primary personal email environment has been Yahoo Mail. With near infinite storage and universal access via the web, it has worked great. Have had the downside of no off line email access when traveling, but the convenience of having email on any computer I walk up to has made up for it.

(Un)Fortunately, the Mac has some pretty powerful integration between the built in Address Book app and the built in Mail app. Honestly, having lived in NeXT Mail for almost a decade, not using Mail.app in OSX was never an option.

I configured Mail.app to download my Yahoo mail via POP, and leave messages on the server so I can still have web access from Vista and other environments. The only annoyance is that Mail.app does not delete mail on POP servers when you delete in Mail.app. Instead, you have to bring up the info panel for the Yahoo mailbox, find all the messages that are deleted on the Mac but still on the server, and press a button to delete them from the server. Works fine, and I'll probably set up a script at some point to automate it.

Addresses/Contacts and Calendar entries are another issue. Fortunately the latest version of Plaxo is spectacular in sync'ing various environments. I have a free Plaxo account that keeps my Yahoo, Google, and OSX environments in sync for calendars and address book (also supports hotmail and Outlook sync, but I don't use those). Works like a charm. I highly recommend it for everyone. (FYI, Plaxo has come a long way from their amazingly annoying incarnation several years ago...this is a first class service)


Web browsing and Bookmarks
Internet Explorer and Safari are both nice browsers, but I've been a Firefox user for a while. So I don't go crazy, my requirement was the same brower (with same plug-ins) and same bookmarks under both OSX and Windows.

Solution was to stay with Firefox. All my favorite extensions work in both environments. Experience is essentially the same.

Wish I could have fun with all those cool Safari'isms, but the Windows version would have to mature a lot before I give up Firefox (OSX version as well)

One of my favorite Firefox extensions is OnlineBookmarkManager. It syncs you're Firefox bookmarks with an on-line service, and lets you keep multiple systems aligned. There are other services as well, but I wanted something simple and reliable (I don't need social networking around bookmarks, thanks).

There is the added benefit of always having an off site backup of your bookmarks in case you lose your hard drive.


Files and Backup
I haven't yet put together a clean hybrid solution for file and backup management.

When I had a pure windows environment, I used the "Offline Files" feature of Windows to cache a copy of my files on my home file server to my laptop. While at home, I connected directly to my file server. While away, I would still have access to the local copy on my laptop, and any changes would get sync'ed back to my file server when I got home.

Backup was a simple matter of backing up the file server (with the added benefit that files were usually on 2-3 hard drives in 2-3 different machines at any given time if I lost a drive).

Backups of the file server involved cloning the internal drive to an identical external drive. Recovery would involve popping the new drive in and rebooting. Ditto for my laptop.

Unfortunately, OSX does not have a notion of off line files. There are a variety of options to keep folders in sync, but I haven't found a good one. The .mac service apparently provides for syncing between Macs, but that doesn't help me.

My current hack involves sync'ing files from my file server to my MS Vista virtual machine partition. Using Parallels, I can at least have access to the files. Need to come up with something more rationale. Please give a holler if you have a workable solution to keeping ~20Gb in files in sync across multiple environments.

For system backup, I'm experimenting with the Moxy on-line backup service. So far, so good (2Gb free backup storage, $5/month for unlimited). If you want to try it out, follow this link. I get 256Mb additional storage for every referral ;-)

Carbon Copy Cloner seems to be the app of choice for clone Mac hard drives. I have a MyBook Pro external drive on order (has USB, Firewire 400/800, and eSATA connectors) that I will start using for clone backups of my various system drives. Given the Unix roots of OSX, I can't imagine any issues with CCC.


Printing
We currently have an HP all in one printer attached to a Netgear wireless print server. Works great from our Windows boxes, but no Mac support for the Netgear.

Fortunately the Netgear uses standard LPD for communicating over the network, and the Mac is a Unix box under the hood.

Fortunately, our HP has Mac drivers. Unfortunately, the drivers are only for when the printer is connected directly to the Mac via USB. HP does not offer LPD drivers, and the various linux sites doesn't have a LPD driver that works either.

Solution right now is to walk up to the printer and plug it in when I want to print. Long term solution will be to find a printer that is well supported via LPD, or is a PostScript printer.



So far so good. Need to get the sync issue sorted out, but that should be addressable.

1 comment:

javatechie said...

For backup I use SVN remotely to a linux server. This allows directory versioning, and labels to do point in time recovery. Cheers