Looking forward to trying the new navigation on my way home from work. Could this become a competitor to Waze?
A new major version of 1Password for iOS has just been released, and it is a major overhaul of not only the application design, but new features such as a tab for favorites and an improved browser. Get it now for more than 50% off.
With the World Backup Day in our rear-view mirror, giving a second thought to our backup needs become utterly apparent. Most computer professionals probably have some kind of nagging voice inside their heads reminding them of creating backups, which works fine to some extent, until realizing that all backups are in-house and will be lost in case of a fire.
People tend to have no backup at all however, and adding a cloud based backup solution would greatly benefit these kinds of users. There are a lot of options though, and finding one that suits a particular need is not the easiest thing to accomplish.
Given that modern age files are quite large, with photo libraries containing 20 Gb worth of pictures every year or more, having a solution with unlimited storage, or as cheap as possible per gigabyte, is crucial. Not only that, setup has to be minimal and it should by default backup everything in the normal documents folder, music and other type of user-created content.
Having a DSLR camera that outputs raw files at about 10 Mb per photo, which within in a year amounts to 10 to 40 Gb worth of pictures, a remote backup solution with plentiful of storage is desperately needed. Other types of media include captured HD video files of irreplaceable moments and bought music, which together amounts to hundred of gigabytes worth of precious and irreplaceable data.
This means that my storage needs are quite large and increasing by the day, which means that a reasonably cheap and fast service is needed, which in addition is reliable and as secure as possible. These demands might sound like an oxymoron, but finding the perfect backup solution should encompass all these properties in some way.
I would also like a service which is reasonably priced for at least three computers backing up to the same account, but preferably being able to use at least five computers would be optimal. This means that backing up my parents’ computer to the same account will be a breeze and with no extra cost.
The whole reason for having a cloud based backup is to have my precious data available off-site, and to make things easier, the service should preferably have reasonable download and upload speeds and its agent should be able to operate without intervention when everything is configured and running.
When deciding to use a cloud based backup solution, there is a wide array of applications and services to consider. There are different types of backup services, and the most common ones are probably file synchronization services such as Dropbox and box.net.
While their goal is to synchronize files between different computers and other devices, they also have the ability to backup versions of the file when they change or are deleted. This provides an excellent solution for sharing document and other files when collaborating with other people, or when working on the same content using different devices. Storage is however not cheap if you plan to store more than a couple of gigabytes worth of data.
On the other side, there are backup software which usually do not have the file synchronization capability, but are more focused on keeping backups of your files, with no bells and whistles. The benefit of using something like this instead, is that cloud space is usually cheaper, with many backup providers claiming “unlimited” space.
There are a lot of players in this market however, such as SpiderOak and BackBlaze. While SpiderOak could possibly be a descent service, it would be too expensive for my storage needs. At the rate of $10 per 100 Gb, with how many computers you like, it however becomes apparent that this is an excellent service if your storage needs do not exceed that first tier of 100 Gb.
Backblaze on the other hand has a native Mac client and offers an easy plan of $5 per computer and month for unlimited storage. One of the key features however is their restore service, which means that they can overnight you a hard drive or DVD with your data for a fast restore. There is just one problem with this service — the data on the chosen media is sent unencrypted!
That brings me to the topic of security, and that no one of the services above have (to my knowledge) support for using your own encryption key. This means having to trust the provider to keep your password and key secure, instead of knowing that your own encryption key never leaves your computer.
Another option I considered was CrashPlan, which was featured on the World Backup Day website. Having never tried it or even heard of it before, I was reluctant to consider it. The client is also written in Java, making it easier to run on multiple platforms, but memory and performance issues are usually lurking.
The user interface is quite pleasing to the eye, and once the client is initially launched and an account is created, a backup of the home directory is started automatically. Most people would be satisfied with leaving the application in its default state, since their entire account would be backed up. There is however a lot more than meets the eye at first glance.
The most prominent feature when starting the application is the destination selection, providing the ability to backup using different storage endpoints. While backing up to “CrashPlan Central” will cost you money, the other backup options are free.
If you have a friend running CrashPlan, you can add each other as destinations for the backups, giving both parties the benefits of off-site backups while still using the free version. You will however need to provide enough storage for each others’ backup needs, which is not free in itself.
The same procedure can be used between different computers within your own account. They can act as destinations as well, potentially providing you will off-site backups if you have computers at different physical locations.
As mentioned earlier on, having an online backup together with a large backup size requires plentiful of bandwidth to work properly. Having backed up a considerable amount of data to the CrashPlan servers, there was a big difference in how fast the server nodes were able to receive the data.
Before measuring the upload speed, the settings for CPU and bandwidth usage were tweaked to allow maximum throughput. My internet link is a 100 Mbit fiber connection, so if there are any delays or bandwidth issues, they reside on the server side.
I started backing up my music collection on my Macbook Pro, which performed at a fairly constant rate at 3.2 Mbit/s. Even though this was fairly slow, it was bearable, give my not so large music library on this particular computer.
Backing up on the NAS was a completely different story however. Another server was chosen as the target for the backup (this is done automatically), but this time around, the throughput maxed out at about 700 Kbit/s at times, which is terribly slow if the data to be backed up exceeds 100 Gb, which it did in this case.
Having a backup solution in the cloud inherently raises privacy and security concerns. A lot of people will be uneasy giving up their data to a third party without knowing their data is safe from prying eyes.
CrashPlan uses Blowfish with a 448 bit key to secure the data at rest, and the communication is additionally encrypted using normal SSL connections with AES and a 256 bit key. The Blowfish key is then escrowed together with your data on the CrashPlan servers, encrypted with your account password.
For most people, the above solution is perfect, given the simple nature of the setup. The end user never has to touch the encryption key or remember anything more complicated than their own account password. When restoring files on a new computer, it is just the matter of logging into the account and restoring the files from the server.
The downside of this solution is that there is no way to partition the associated computer within the account, meaning that any computer logged into the user account can restore any file from any computer to the local computer.
There is another security mode which separates the encryption key with the user account. That way, you still have the CrashPlan user account, but the encryption key is protected with another password. The benefits of using this mode is that different computers can have different passwords, and thus separate encryption keys. This fixes the problem with all computers being able to access all information on each server associated with the account.
The third option is to provide the encryption key directly instead of using passwords to encrypt the key stored on the server. This means that it is impossible for someone without knowledge of the encryption key to decrypt the data. The downside is that the key needs to be kept secure, since it needs to be provided when doing a data restore. Having the key on paper in a safety deposit box or some other secure location will be necessary, since losing the key means that it will be impossible to decrypt the data on the CrashPlan servers.
Security conscious people will undoubtedly distrust the implementation of the client handling the encryption key. Who knows if the key is secretly transmitted to CrashPlan without the user’s knowledge?
Having started the trial of CrashPlan only a few days ago, I have yet to uncover severe behavior and inconsistencies. It has been a fairly smooth ride so far setting up my own encryption key and backing up three computers.
There was however one weird kink when creating and using keys for encryption. When the key was created on the Windows platform, it could for some reason not be validated on the Mac, which at first made me doubt the service. However, when I created a new key on the Mac, it could successfully be used both on the Mac and in Windows, as well as my Linux server.
If you are planning to use CrashPlan on the Mac, you may experience an unusually high memory load, which is partly the result of CrashPlan being executed using 64 bit Java. There is a simple way to change to 32 bit execution however, which involves editing /Library/LaunchDaemons/com.crashplan.engine.plist and adding “-d32” to the ProgramArguments section. For other memory optimizations and a discussion, have a look at the Reduce memory usage thread on the CrashPlan forums.
Another thing which could be improved upon are upload and download speeds, which are abysmal compared to the available throughput. The speed when backing up my Mac seemed to stabilize at about 3.2 Mbit/s and the speed on my NAS is running at about 1 Mbit/s. Extremes ranged from about 500 Kbit/s to 20 Mbit/s, which is basically all over the place. Not that this is usually a problem once the initial backup has completed, but it could be a lot faster. This is also one of the reasons I am hesitant to become a member once the trial has run out, but I may change my mind, since it is extremely convenient.
The other reason however, is privacy. While I am confident that CrashPlan does not “backup” my encryption key once I have chosen to use my own, there could be programming errors or other problems, exposing this key in some manner.
The alternative would be to setup a backup server at some location with plenty of disk space to mirror all my data, including changes made to file and using some kind of rsync snapshot solution. This requires a somewhat hefty investment on the hardware side however, while CrashPlan is ready to backup anything I throw at it.
When the trial expiration starts to creep up, I will hopefully have some more insight into reasons to stay or quit. Until then, I am staying with CrashPlan.
There are plenty of applications out there claiming to end the chaos and make sense of everything. One of the schools is GTD, which focuses on next-actions and context. This makes a lot of sense in my opinion, and I have been trying to incorporate the practices into my daily life. One of the strongest questions you can ask yourself at the end of a meeting for instance, is
What is the next action to move this project forward?
Such as simple question, but the answer may not always be readily available after a meeting if you have been focusing on the wrong things. A project is by definition done when there are no next-actions, so why do we have such trouble defining and following a set course?
Another thing that has made it into my mindset is the notion of inboxes. I will not get into details on the different steps of the GTD process, but step one is “capture”. This means that any new idea or action is thrown into an inbox, until such time comes as to review this inbox and process each item in the list. In GTD, the outcomes for an action in the inbox is “do”, “defer” or “delegate”, which probably reminds many people of the Inbox Zero principle of Merlin Mann.
I have been a long time user of Things, a task management application for the Mac, iPhone and now also for iPad. While it has been working fine and does most things I need, further development of key features have been terribly slow. I decided to take another look around, and I have since long ago given up on The Hit List, even though it showed much potential. This time I gave OmniFocus a real shot. I even bought the iPhone application just to give it a proper chance.
Contexts and tags
There are some key differences in how both software work. While OmniFocus brings forward contexts, Things uses tags to achieve the same thing. While tags are a lot more flexible, there is a downside too. Contexts in OmniFocus are easy to use in the sense that they are always present and visible, whereas Things uses a bar at the top for tags, which makes it harder to get an overview of contexts. This has also lead me to not use contexts properly, but always work in the project/planning mode, which is not the GTD way.
Since Things is using tags however, other GTD principles, such as time available, energy level and priority are easy to implement. OmniFocus currently does not support all the principles, and there is no way to implement them by yourself.
Separating work and play
One of the best features in OmniFocus is the support for different perspectives. I have for instance a Work and a Personal perspective, which means that when I am working, just clicking on the Work icon in the toolbar hides everything else from view and lets me focus on what I should be doing right now. There is for instance no need to see actions regarding blog articles to write when I am at work.
Things on the other hand, has something similar in areas. You can assign a tag for different areas, which will then be inherited by projects and actions within that particular area. This makes it possible to differentiate personal and work related items in the next view. There is however no way of filtering the visible projects in the sidebar, which means that there is still lots of distraction and you might have to spend energy sifting though actions that are not applicable in your current context.
Making it work like your mind
While Things has a flexible and easy to use tagging feature, OmniFocus lets you organize your projects into folders, and projects can even have sub-projects and you guessed right, actions can even have sub-actions (which would make them sub-projects, but that’s another story).
In Things however, there is only one fixed hierarchy. At the top there are areas of focus, which can contain both projects and single-step actions. Projects contain actions as usual, but there is no way of creating sub-projects or actions.
Cutting out distraction
Another way the two contenders differentiate in philosophy is the way actions are linked. Things currently does not have any type of dependency support, meaning that it will always show you all actions in a project, regardless of whether they are available or not. Say you want to sell something on Ebay, and among other, there are two tasks. One says “Create the auction on ebay.com”, whereas the other one says “Take a picture of the item”. Since you can not create the auction before having the picture, the first task should only appear once you have completed the second action of taking the picture.
Doing this in OmniFocus is quite easy. A project can behave in three different ways:
This is true even for sub-projects, meaning that the main project itself can be parallel, meaning that all actions within can be done in any order. Sequential projects however, must be done in a particular order. After using OmniFocus for a while, I use parallel projects in most cases, while sub-projects within are usually sequential.
There is of course a downside to all this dependency behavior, and that is when actions are mistakably hidden, because of a project in error has been defined as sequential instead of parallel for instance. In a perfect world, doing the weekly review should help mitigate against these problems, but in the real world, things might fall though the cracks.
My move to OmniFocus has been a productive one by far, and only seeing relevant information when needing it makes all the difference in the world. OmniFocus may seem too advanced and hard to learn at first, but once you get over that initial threshold and set up your perspectives, you never have to fiddle with the software again – you can just focus on your lists and actions and everything else will be taken care of.
The thing I miss most from Things is the way it handles recurring actions. You set a schedule for the action, and when it becomes available, a copy is created. This means that while the action is still scheduled, you can still affect the copy, for instance by delaying it, setting another due date, without affecting the original scheduled action.
I now use OmniFocus for the iPad as well, and it will be interesting to see whether it can be used in new ways and for new things. I already love the new view for the weekly review, as well as the new forecast view, which is supposed to be included in an upcoming release of OmniFocus for the Mac as well.
I have been using my iPad for a couple of months now and have grown accustom to certain applications and ways of using them. This is basically a list with my most used and loved applications for the iPad, and what better day to write this article than today, the day the iPad is officially released in Sweden. A lot of people interested in Apple and the iPad have already imported their own ages ago, and Swedish media have been writing about the device for months now. This is however the first day when everyone in Sweden easily can get ahold of one.
The built-in applications will not be mentioned in this article, even though some of them are used extensively by me. Let’s start with the fun stuff.
Media and Entertainment
Forget about converting your video library for some movie viewing. If you get Air Video and install the server on your Windows or Mac, you can enjoy super crisp high-definition video on the go without having to convert and copy the media to your iPad. The server can transcode just about anything to fit your current bandwidth. This is a universal application, so you can install it on your iPhone too!
If you enjoy movies and want to view plot information, reviews or even watch a trailer, be sure to pick up the excellent IMDb application for the de-facto movie source on the internet.
The best tool for Getting Things Done is definitely Omnifocus. There are applications for the Mac and iPhone as well, and they can all be easily synced together. While having a premium price tag, it makes up for it for being the best task manager available. Some features are even better implemented and more usable than the desktop version.
If you want simple and fast note taking on the iPad, Simplenote is the way to go. It synchronizes with their web service, which means that you can access your notes anywhere. Simplenote only supports standard text, which means no rich text, images or any type of attachments.
If Simplenote sounds too simple, Evernote may just be the thing for you. In addition to writing standard text notes, you can upload images and just about any type of file. There are clients for Windows, Mac and the iPhone too, and together with their free web service, you can access your notes everywhere.
This excellent and free application is perfect when you need to be creative and create mockups, or just to doodle on while listening to a boring presentation. It has a rather basic tool set, but I find that it works great for anything I want to create. If you need more control and functionality, have a look at Sketchbook Pro instead.
If you get your news and website updates in Google Reader, Reeder is for you. With its beautiful, clean and legible interface, going through your daily feeds is a breeze. There is a client for the iPhone available too, and a Mac version is on the way.
You know when you find a very interesting article to read but just don’t have the time to finish it at the moment, Read it Later handles it for you. Adding a site done just by clicking a bookmarklet, and reading the articles on the iPad works exceptionally well.
iBooks is the official application from Apple to read books with, and has support for epub and PDF files as well. Being in Sweden however, the store only contains free books, which makes it hard to buy books at the moment.
Kindle in contrast to iBooks makes it possible to buy ebooks directly on your device from the Amazon Kindle store. It even has an iPhone client and syncs notes and reading position between the devices.
If you are into international magazines, you can get PDF versions of most magazines for a great price using Zinio.
Qiozk is like Zinio, but targeted to the Swedish market, which offer many of the most popular magazines.
The New York Times application covers a wide range of areas, and will be free until early 2011.
If the New York Times is not for you, then perhaps Huffington Post can be the bringer of news and interesting articles. It is a free application which has a lot of sections for viewing.
If you are into Twitter, the official application is excellent and provides everything most people need in a Twitter client.
If you need to use Remote Desktop, iTap RDP is the best I have used. Even though it is somewhat pricey, it is rock solid and has innovative features for quick and easy navigation and usage of the remote system.
I have been a long-time Gmail user and prefer using their web interface for my personal email, which I love for a number of reasons. For instance, when receiving a new reply to an archived email, the entire conversation is always shown, regardless of where the individual emails are located.
On the professional side of things, I use Apple Mail, which I am sorry to say is starting to get fairly outdated. It does not have the above mentioned feature where email replies are automatically shown together regardless of location. It doesn’t even support using SSL client certificates for connecting to the email server. The latter can fortunately be remedied by using stunnel as a proxy.
I have used Thunderbird ages ago, so I decided to install the new version and add both my personal and professional email account and see what has happened these last major versions. To my surprise, Thunderbird has been cleaned up considerably and has lots of new features like tabs, smart folders and a unified inbox.
The coolest new feature in Thunderbird 3 has to be the new search interface. It is just a beauty to see the data mining ability and the ease of refining the search terms as you go. There is for instance the possibility to visually drill down on the year, month and day to find just the thing you are looking for.
Then I recalled trying out Postbox a while ago when it was in beta. It is a commercial fork of Thunderbird, with its own unique set of features and looks, and although many Thunderbird plugins work with Postbox, not all do. I ended up giving this some thought.
What can a commercial company do with Thunderbird that the Mozilla foundation can not do themselves?
I decided to yet again give it a go. The installation is as easy as it can be on the Mac — just drag the application to the applications folder and you are done. The account set-up was super easy, with most things detected automatically, and that even includes the work account. Being a Thunderbird derivate, I knew that it would support SSL client certificates, so I just added mine and it worked instantly.
The interface of Postbox looks a lot like Thunderbird, but there are some not-so-subtle differences too. First of all is the polish — Postbox looks and feels more like a commercial product with its clean interface and modern color palette. The only interface section I liked better in Thunderbird is the main toolbar, which is a lot cleaner. It mostly has to do with Thunderbird having support for showing button labels beside the icons instead of below. That small setting makes all the difference in the world, esthectially speaking.
The first technical thing I noticed was that there is only one folder view — you have your accounts on the top, and the folders (including the inbox), changes below depending on the account you select at the top.
I am not a big fan of unified inboxes, and I had a hard time finding a view I like in Thunderbird (not to mention Apple Mail). Postbox, while only having this single view, get how people work with email. Having personal and professional mail in the same unified inbox just adds to the clutter and distractions we try so hard to get rid of.
Making the accounts completely separate is the perfect recipe for me, and lets me focus on one thing at a time, while not being distracted by Facebook alerts or Twitter messages and other things that may pop up in my personal inbox.
The conversation view in Postbox is excellent too. It works exactly like in Gmail, with collapsible replies and a beautiful interface. There is also this thread and message summary to the right of the message which collects all links, photos, files and other types of attachments for easy access.
Postbox for some reason, even has integrated support for posting to Twitter and Facebook. While I would use a dedicated application for this like Tweetdeck or Echofon, I will definitely try it out and see what they have done with it.
A last thing to mention about Postbox is the built-in tagging support. If you would like to tag email with certain action tied to them like “Follow Up”, “Waiting For” or other tags, it is possible to do so without having to resort to putting these emails in separate folders.
If you are not into sorting incoming email to different project folders, you will definitely enjoy the archive feature, which is available in Thunderbird as well. Pressing “a” will move the selected messages into the archive, which is a regular email folder. The thinking behind this is that since Postbox and Thunderbird index all email, you could just search for what you want.
I am personally fond of having separate folders for different projects and mailing lists. Everything else is put into the generic “archives” folder.
If you want to purchase Postbox, please consider using my Postbox referral link. This will save you $10, and you will support this site too!
FogBugz 7.3 Now Available. Highlights include:
- New Plugin: Case Event Edit
- New Feature: Bulk Reply
- Upgraded Feature: Bulk Editing
- Upgraded Plugin: Project Backlog
- IMAP Support
- Resizable Case View
… and lots of smaller features and fixes. See the site for details.