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My favorite browser

Tiger boxQuite a few people seem interested in knowing which browser is "my favorite." I wish I had a simple answer for that question, but as of now, there's not just one. Before I get to my favorite browser(s), the macosxhints site has done some tracking of browser usage via the occasional poll. I've run a total of five polls regarding favored browsers since I launched the site. Below are the results for each, showing the top three in each poll, along with the percentage share for the winner.

  • Feb 2001: OmniWeb (41%), Internet Explorer, iCab. Note that the site was *very* young at this point, and the results were skewed as most of the readers were early OS X adaptors -- hence we all used the only (and best!) native browser of the day.
  • Jul 2002: Internet Explorer (40%), Mozilla, OmniWeb. The site has grown some now, and more typical users are visiting. IE takes the lead.
  • Feb 2003: Safari (59%), Chimera (nee Camino), Internet Explorer. Safari shipped in January, and by early February, it already had nearly 60% of the Hints readership.
  • Feb 2004: Safari (82%), Mozilla, Camino. Total dominance now. IE has vanished, with less than 2% reporting they use it.
  • Oct 2004: Safari (65%), Firefox, Camino. Firefox has emerged and made a pretty serious dent in Safari's domination (Firefox garnered 18% of the votes, which is basically what Safari lost from the prior poll). IE has dropped to 0.9% usage.

I should probably run another shortly; it's been over six months, and it would be interesting to see if Firefox has eaten away at more of Safari's lead. So enough of the history lesson ... which browser is my favorite?

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Should Apple applications be movable?

Tiger boxA quick entry tonight, just because the subject came up recently in this hint regarding iSync. In particular, the hint (and comments) note that iSync will fail if the application is moved into a directory whose name contains spaces. I had added an editor's aside about moving apps in OS X, and my personal belief that it's a Bad Thing to do. As noted in the second comment, it's not necessarily an issue with using applications -- they'll (more than likely) run fine from most any location. Instead, it's an issue with Apple's updaters failing if the application they update isn't in the usual spot.

Although it's my philosophy not to move Apple's applications around in OS X, that doesn't mean I'm happy about it. I have multiple partitions on my drive (partition vs. don't partition; that's a subject for another day!), and have one set up particularly for all my applications and utilities (called Apps). I put everything on that partition -- it makes it easier, for instance, to erase and install OS X if I have the need. As of result, the only things you'll find in my boot drive's Applications and Utilities folders are Apple's programs, along with anything that just won't run if it's located elsewhere (Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4, for instance, fails if it's not in /Applications). Everything else lives on my Apps partition. As much as I'd love to move Apple's stuff out of there, after reading about the issues people have had with upgraded applications not working, I've decided to just let sleeping Mail applications lie.

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How [not] to upgrade to Mail in 10.4


Thank you, Andy Warwick! I'm leaving the following article online, just so I remind myself how much time I wasted on this. However, the comment from Andy (#9 in the chain) pointed me to what I was doing wrong. So for anyone who hasn't imported their email yet, the trick to using the Mail for OS X import function is this: simply point it to your old user's Library/Mail folder, no deeper.

I still think Apple's language could have been clearer (see my #10 comment), but I retract the other nasty things I said about the import routine. When pointed at the correct folder (I just tested it), it worked like a charm. Good job, Mail team. Now how about making the import screen read simply "Please navigate to the previous Mail folder"?

This is a follow-up to my The Art and Science of OS X System Upgrades article. I'm (still) in the process of upgrading my main drive, having just finished migrating my email archives last night. Why did it take so long? User stupidity plus, in my opinion, some poor functionality in 10.4's Mail import routines.

As noted in the earlier article, I had chosen to do an upgrade install on my main drive, but to not automatically copy over my user's folder (due to all the cruft in it). It was this decision that ended up costing me many hours of email migration labor. Why, you might ask, did it take so long?

After I got 10.4 up and running, before doing much of anything else, I launched Mail and set up my two primary accounts, just so I could keep up with email while doing the rest of my work. Mail may have asked me about importing old email when I first launched it, but I don't think it did -- my ~/Library/Mail folder was empty, since I hadn't moved the old Mail folders over. Apparently if you allow the user information to migrate, Mail will automatically import your old Mail messages. Ah, I should be so lucky...

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The hidden Comcast higher-speed option

comcast logoOur home internet connection is from Comcast, and overall, I'd say I'm a reasonably satisfied customer -- I've had a few outages, and a flakey modem that had to be replaced, but they've always been prompt and courteous when dealing with these issues. But this post isn't really about their capabilities as an ISP, it's about their marketing (or lack thereof).

A couple months back, I heard that Comcast had a faster package available. Now cable modems aren't slow to begin with, but there's always a desire for more speed, so I was intrigued and went net searching. I probably should have started at Google, or just called Comcast, but I didn't. Instead, I tried our account page on, but came up blank. Next, I tried the Products page from the corporate homepage. No luck there either. I even tried entering our zip code, address, etc., but could find no reference to this purported faster package on the ordering screen. For what should be an easy sale to existing customers, Comcast was making this information very hard to find.

I finally found it, after much clicking, by tracing a convoluted series of links from the FAQs page. In an FAQ discussing available speeds, it states:

Comcast High-Speed Internet Service + $10 Add-on for Speed
$10 Add-on for Speed delivers you a 100% Pure Broadband experience. Super blazing fast speeds (6Mbps downstream and 768Kbps upstream) will help you fly through the Web's most graphic-heavy sites.

Finally! This was the info I was looking for -- for only $10 more a month (about 23% more money), download speed increases by 50% (4Mbps to 6Mbps). Even better for me, as I do a lot of this, upload speed increases by 100% (384Kbps to 768Kbps). Since I rely heavily on my connection, this added investment was a no-brainer for me.

This package is officially called the '$10 Add-on for Speed,' which is what you need to know to order it. So if you have Comcast, and want some additional speed for a bit more money, it might be worth a phone call -- unless you're in the Portland area, then don't upgrade, as I want all the bandwidth for myself! :)

The “joy” of travel in the digital age

Note: This post originally appeared on my friend Kirk McElhearn's blog, Kirkville, back in January, as I didn't have a blog site at that point. I wrote it shortly after returning from the Macworld show in San Francisco, as I was amazed at the amount of stuff I had to take for such a short and simple trip! I'm reproducing it here just so it becomes part of the archives...

wire jumbleLast week [January, 2005], I had the pleasure of speaking about Mac OS X (one of my favorite subjects) at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco (thanks to everyone who came to my sessions!). Since I live in Portland, Oregon, I had to pack for a plane trip to the 'big city.' That's when the fun began...

Traveling has become a much more complex endeavor than it used to be. A decade ago, packing for a three-day business trip would require nothing more than insuring that you had sufficient clothes in your bag, the required personal care items, and perhaps your address book and maybe even a calculator. But that was about it.

Packing today, especially if you're giving a presentation, is a whole different ballgame, as you can see in the image at right (larger version)

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The art and science of OS X system upgrades

tiger boxSince 10.2 (or was it 10.1?), we Mac users have had to make a choice when it comes to major ("dot release") OS X releases: how will we upgrade? In its current incarnation, the OS X installer offers three options:

  • Upgrade Install: The easiest option for users, this simply patches the necessary bits of the system and bundled applications to migrate from the current OS to the new release.
  • Archive and Install: The installer moves the entire current system, Users folders and all, into a Previous System folder, and then installs a new copy from scratch. You can optionally migrate over your Users folder to ease the transition.
  • Erase and Install: The "wipe the slate clean" approach. Your hard drive is erased, a new system is installed, and you start over from scratch.

Which method to use is seemingly a matter of great debate. Apple has a good overview available, too, with a brief description of each option.

Having just recently started (note that it's not yet completed) migrating my primary boot drive to 10.4, read on for my thoughts on upgrade strategies, the strengths and weaknesses of each of these methods, and which I prefer (and why).

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The many faces of Apple’s OS X applications

finder iconGiven my background with, it's quite clear I'm an OS X fan. But that doesn't mean I think it's perfect. While there are many, many things it does quite well, there are also areas that bother me, and make using OS X tougher than it should be.

One such area is the consistency of applications' interfaces. Long a hallmark of the Mac experience, major pieces of that consistency have been falling away slowly but surely as OS X and its applications evolve. With the recent release of OS X 10.4, I thought I'd take a look at the state of application consistency in OS X. Generally speaking (Java applications excepted), menus remain a high point of consistency. File and Edit are always there, with there generally familiar choices. After that, of course, the menu structure is up to the program designer. But overall, I have no complaints with menu consistency in OS X. It's the actual application interfaces that are bugging me.
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Ten questions on the Finder and user interface

Finder iconI spend a lot of time using OS X. A typical day will involve somewhere between 12 and 15 hours usage, with somewhat less than that on the weekends. I've been doing this basically ever since the Public Beta. After all that time, there are obviously some things that make we wonder "What was Apple thinking?" when they made a certain decision.

So without further ado, here's a list of ten such questions -- in this case, I'm focusing on the Finder and the user interface in general. Answers aren't provided, of course, but please feel free to comment if you have any insight on any of them...

  1. Why can't I sort a Finder column-view window? Yes, the UI would be tricky, but it's quite doable (see Path Finder, which does it quite nicely).
  2. Why isn't there an easy way to colorize the Finder's sidebar? It can be done, of course, but it's quite the hack -- and this one no longer works in 10.4.
  3. Speaking of colors, why can't I colorize (or use a picture background in) a column-view or list-view window? Are only icon-view users thought to enjoy color?
  4. How come a folder in the Sidebar is spring-loaded (you can drill-down while dragging an object), but folders in the Toolbar are not? They used to be, but when the Sidebar was added, that functionality was removed from the Toolbar. I find the Toolbar more useful than the Sidebar (there's more room there, for one thing), but the lack of spring-loaded folder support there is somewhat crippling.
  5. Why can't I add a visual divider to the dock, without resorting to aliases with lame custom icons?

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The technology of baby monitors…

Baby monitorsRemember I warned you that anything of interest to me was fair game for The Robservatory? Well, here's the first non-Mac-related post, but it's at least vaguely technology related.

My wife and I have a nearly two-year-old daughter, Kylie. Way back when at the baby shower, someone gave us The First Year's 900 MHz Two Receiver Monitor set. For those without children, the purpose of these devices is to dramatically increase the stress level in new parents. After placing the transmitter in the child's room, the receivers pick up the child's every sound. So basically, every noise your child makes at night or while napping becomes something new to worry about -- "Honey, did that breath sound labored? Is she getting a cold? Did you remember the blanket, I think her teeth are chattering! Is she breathing? I can't hear her now -- quick, go check on her!!"

In all seriousness, these are very handy devices for monitoring your child without having to sit outside the door to their room. In our case, Kylie's room is upstairs and on the other side of the house from ours, and I sleep quite soundly, so I really need the speaker to jar me awake in case she needs something overnight. So why am I talking about monitors here? While our unit worked well at first, it had recently started to get very noisy. Every so often (like 10 times a minute, really!), we'd get a loud burst of static, or very loud "white noise" sound that would last 20 seconds or so. Sometimes we could even hear half of the neighbor's phone conversations.
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Two older articles

Macworld logoThe following two article were posted on prior to the launch of my blog. I'm referencing them here in one article, just so they'll have some representation on my blog.

  • [April 2005] Volunteering for our local PBS station's pledge drive, I was quite surprised to find a room full of iBooks. So I wrote about it, after interviewing some of those responsible for making it happen.
  • [May 2005] Widget security: fact and fiction: This is my perspective on the security risk (or lack thereof) with the then-new OS X 10.4's Dashboard widgets.

The remainder of my articles will be posted in their own stories here; you can read them all by looking at the Macworld category.