Aug 192011
 

Revised answer: Yes

The longer answer gets a bit more involved. First of all, there is some level of protection built into OSX against malware called File Quarantine. There are limits to how much protection this provides compared with PC anti-virus and anti-malware products as it protects against known malware at the point where the malware is installed or run.

It is also limited by the frequency at which the OSX operating system is updated – OSX is typically updated once a week – unless you put off applying updates whereas a PC-style anti-virus product will typically update it’s virus definitions on an hourly basis. This would seem to make it totally inadequate, but OSX just doesn’t have as much malware as Windows.

There are a number of possible reasons for this including that OSX is inherently more secure and that OSX just doesn’t have enough of a market share for malware authors to bother with. The truth behind the lack of malware for OSX is only known to the malware authors, although it should be noted that OSX viruses do exist (as do Linux ones).

You could take the attitude that a flood of OSX malware is due any day now, and insist on running an anti-virus product in addition to the inbuilt protection OSX has. There are of course people warning that the flood of OSX malware is just around the corner, although they tend to be people connected to the anti-virus industry so are perhaps less than totally disinterested.

Of course if you have some seriously private data to protect, you should probably consider it. But most of us don’t work for the intelligence services, so can be a little less protected … for now. This of course can all change next month, next year, or sometime, so don’t take the word of this blog entry seriously especially if the date on it is a long time ago!

Of course now some time has passed, the situation has changed (with Flashback amongst others), so the answer is that yes you do need an anti-virus product. It is true that Apple has some built-in protection against Malware, but Apple is not an AV company and so they may well react too slowly to protect you.

Jan 232011
 

During a recent upgrade of the software I have installed on my work laptop, Macports managed to get a trifle confused during the process. Firstly Enlightenment suddenly started crashing at the drop of a hat, and secondly dbus suddenly started refusing connections and claiming that X11 support was not built-in.

The first problem I solved by comping Enlightenment (E16) from scratch and overwriting the Enlightenment installed from Macports – probably not the right thing to do. It turns out that the Macport version of Enlightenment is very outdated and could do with a refresh.

The second problem was a little trickier, and may have been solved in a slightly more Macport compatible manner. In fact this problem was two problems in one. First of all, any attempt to start a GNOME-based (or presumably anything wanting to talk to dbus) would give an error indicating that X11 support was missing.

I fixed this by recompiling dbus manually :-

# port mirror dbus
#   Gets a copy of the source code used to compile the source
# cd /opt/local/var/macports/distfiles/dbus
#   Change to directory where the source code is located
# gunzip -c dbus-1.2.24.tar.gz| tar tvf -
#   Unpack the source code
# cd dbus-1.2.24
#   Enter the directory that we've just unpacked.
# ./configure --prefix=/opt/local
#   Configure the package.

If you look at the last few lines of the output from this configuration process, you will see a message of the form “Building X11 code: yes” which is what we want to see – that X11 support is being built. At this point we can build and install :-

# make
# make install

The next problem was that attempting to use the automatically launched version of dbus resulted in a “permission denied” error when trying to communicate over the socket. The work-around for this turned out to be to :-

  1. To turn off the launchd control of dbus by renaming the files /Library/LaunchAgents/org.freedesktop/dbus-session.plist and /Library/LaunchDaemons/org.freedesktop/dbus-session.plist by putting a “.” in front of their name. This stops launchd from starting anything.
  2. Changing the .xinitrc to start dbus using the syntax eval $(dbus-launch –auto-syntax) (note that I explicitly ensure that this script is launched with zsh).
Oct 232010
 

I have not had the opportunity to fiddle with one, but if Apple wants to send me one to review I am more than willing to do that! But I do have a few thoughts on the new Macbook Air. Both the 11″ one and the 13″ one. If you want something closer to a review (although nobody has had one long enough to review it properly) you can do worse than have a look at this article.

It is amusing to see the reactions to various articles published on the new Air from the “Apple is Satan” crowd, and the “Apple can do no wrong” crowd. Both as it happens are wrong.

If you look at the raw specifications of the Air – especially the 11″ model, you will see something that looks more or less like a netbook. Which of course it cannot be because Steve Jobs thinks netbooks are snake oil and useless at that. In fact it is a little bit better than that – the CPU is a little quicker, the graphics are a little better supported with a faster chipset, and there is a touch less storage (unless you go for the really expensive 256Gbyte model!).

So it’s just a very expensive netbook then ? Well, more or less. It fills roughly the same need – most people are not going to use one of these as their main machines, but will carry them around as ultra-portables. That is the kind of mobile computer you can take anywhere but once you are at your desk it sits in the drawer whilst you use a “proper computer”.

Sure the CPU is a little light-weight, but a couple of years ago a Core2Duo CPU was fine enough to get Real Work Done, so it’s still perfectly adequate to do a bit of light word processing on the train, throw up a presentation on a screen, do a little light web browsing during a boring meeting (ps: I never do this), and of course perfectly adequate for running kermit to connect to a Cisco router whilst balanced on top of a boring blue box.

Most of the compromises made in the specification are to get the size and weight of the laptop down to increase portability – that’s what a laptop is for after all! If you want power, go back to your desktop.

There is a fair amount of criticism around the cost of the Air being as it is very much more expensive than most netbooks. So ? Apple is hardly known for tackling the low end of the market where margins are small, so it is hardly surprising that things have not changed here. And of course this machine has a better specification than any netbook, whilst retaining the characteristic that Apple thinks is important in a netbook – portability.

Of course Apple is hardly perfect. Why must the battery and the SSD be fixed ? And why is there no possibility of swapping out the memory ? Whilst making these devices swappable may well make the laptop just a bit bigger and a bit heavier, it won’t be enough to ruin the portability, and will be a lot greener.

There is of course the usual criticism of Apple that their UK prices are over inflated compared to their US prices. To do a fair comparison, lets take a look :-

Cheapest Air on the US Apple Store $999
Cheapest Air on the UK Apple Store £849
US price in pounds where exchange rate is according to Wolfram Alpha £636.89
Plus UK “sales tax” (VAT) at 20% (to start in January 2011) £764.27
Penalty to UK purchasers for buying Apple £85

So why are we paying that extra £85 ?

We all know that laptop batteries fade over time to eventually give such a short running time to make the laptop unusable as a portable device. And of course circumstances change so you may suddenly need more than 64Gbytes of storage to get your work done on the move – or you just have to run a virtual machine because work has come up with the Ultimate Application that only runs under Windows, so you need a touch more memory.

Or heck, perhaps you just want to give your laptop a midlife upgrade to make it a bit quicker.

Apple want us all to throw away our old products and buy new ones – very capitalistic, but not very green.

And for all those pro-Apple and anti-Apple people out there who get so wound up by product announcements by Apple, please grow up and get a life! It’s a laptop; not a revolutionary change in the way that humanity exists.

Sep 222010
 

I have been looking into a problem with my Macbook Pro for quite a while now – despite setting the preferred sleep mode with sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 1, the laptop refuses to go into hibernate mode. It doesn’t even go into hibernate mode when the battery runs down sufficiently that it should do.

This leads to a couple of problems :-

  1. On occasions, the battery runs down enough to loose all power meaning my laptop switches off, and all running programs are terminated.
  2. Also the laptop sometimes comes out of sleep mode in my backpack getting very hot in the process.

According to a comment on a blog posting, there may be an issue with Firefox preventing hibernation from working – why that should be, I haven’t the faintest idea. Despite seeming a touch unlikely, I gave it a go – quitting Firefox and then putting the laptop to sleep.

And it hibernates!

However it turns out that stopping Firefox doesn’t prevent my main machine from hibernating. After a long hunt and several experiments, it turns out that OSX will simply not hibernate to a disk that isn’t in the slot where the hard disk is. Or in other words, you cannot hibernate when your boot disk in an SSD in the ExpressCard slot.

Which strikes me as a bit … weird. I guess the fix for this would be a proper SSD in the hard disk slot and to move the hard disk elsewhere.

After having invested in an SSD and spent far too long forcing my tired old eyes to operate in my MBP, I can confirm that hibernation does work with any kind of disk in the right slot for the hard disk.

Apr 012010
 

Apologies to those arriving here looking for information relating to U***tu and the use of this ExpressCard SSD. There is nothing relating to it here – Google has taken you on a wrong turn.

So after a false start with the wrong product I end up with a Wintec Filemate SolidGo 48GB ExpressCard 34 Ultra SSD (which is specifically a PCI-based ExpressCard rather than a USB-based one which tend to be a lot slower). The specs on this thing claim 115MB/s read and 65MB/s write which compares to my hard disk with tested scores of 80MB/s read and 78MB/s write – so a lot quicker for reads and marginally slower for writes.

How does this translate into how quickly the Macbook operates ?

Well after quickly duplicating my “OSXBOOT” partition onto the new “disk” using carbon copy cloner onto the new disk (“SSDBOOT”) I can run a few benchmarks :-

Test Result for SSD Result for Spinning Metal
Menu -> Login 31s 27s
Word startup 5s 16s
du of MacPorts 34s 109s

Well apart from the slightly surprising result of the time taken to get from the Refit menu until the login screen being actually quicker for the spinning metal disk, the SSD is approximately 3.2 times quicker! Certainly a worthwhile performance boost … and presumably a suitably chosen SATA SSD would be quicker again.

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