I Am Joe’s Blog:

February 8, 2007 • 2:31 PM

While I Was Out

Morgen and I have been back from our vacation to Indonesia and Hong Kong for more than a week now. We spent the first few days getting caught up with email and bills and struggling with jet lag. Now, life is more or less back to normal, which for us means far more work than time in which to do it. However, we’re also very happy to be home and quite excited about several new things on the horizon.

A lot happened during our absence. Some things readers may be wondering about:

How was your trip? It was mixed. There were wonderful parts and awful parts. I think that, in all, it sort of leaned slightly toward the unpleasant end of the scale. Which is, you know, just one of those things when you travel. On the plus side: I successfully turned 40. We saw some really cool things (still sorting through bazillions of pictures). We ate well. We avoided at least 13 disasters. We didn’t get sick (other than the usual minor digestive disturbances). We have some interesting stories. On the minus side: we ran into significant logistical problems. We couldn’t afford to do some of the things we were planning to do. We found the heat, the pollution, the noise, and the crowds oppressive. We experienced many frustrating cultural differences. We have some interesting stories.

What’s going on with Interesting Thing of the Day, SenseList, and The Geeky Gourmet? Progress is occurring!

  • ITotD: There haven’t been any new articles on Interesting Thing of the Day since December; older articles from the archives have been appearing three times a week. Although we would have liked to keep new content going before, during, and after our trip, there just wasn’t time to make it happen. We hope to start publishing new articles next week, and later this month we’ll be fiddling with the format of the site a bit in ways that I think will benefit everyone. Interestingly—and not for the first time—we noticed that the site’s revenues actually increased significantly during the time we were away. Seriously: we didn’t lift a finger the entire month, and it turned out that January produced our highest AdSense income ever. Go figure. Maybe if we just forget about it entirely, the income will skyrocket. (But we won’t!)
  • SenseList: We’re ramping back up. Look for all new, daily lists starting on Monday, along with a few site tweaks and an increased marketing and publicity effort. Our plan is to test some new approaches over the next four weeks and see if we can increase the site’s effectiveness dramatically.
  • The Geeky Gourmet: I haven’t forgotten about it! I can only type so fast, though, and it’s just a lower priority for the moment. During a brainstorming session on our trip, we came up with an idea that might make it easier to infuse it (and our other sites) with new life without requiring too much effort. Stay tuned.

Your recent update of Take Control of Running Windows on a Mac doesn’t cover VMware Fusion, which went into public beta in late December. What’s your take on it? The beta looks reasonably good: better than Parallels Desktop in some respects, not as spiffy in other respects. I expect the final product will be pretty hot, but that the competition between the two for the ultimate feature set will be pretty intense for the foreseeable future. One thing VMware still has to do is provide support for running copies of Windows installed under Boot Camp, as the new betas of Parallels can do. One thing Parallels still has to do is match the performance and device support of Fusion. The next major update of Running Windows will cover Fusion, as well as the Leopard implementation of Boot Camp, in detail (meaning it won’t be released until after Leopard ships, and I’m not yet sure how long after).

Your recent update of Take Control of Mac OS X Backups doesn’t cover CrashPlan, which was introduced at Macworld Expo. What’s your take on it? (And is there an echo in here?) I’m testing it right now, and I’m in contact with the developers to discuss my impressions and suggestions for future development. CrashPlan is certainly a cool idea, and the best implementation I’ve seen so far of peer-to-peer backups. For automatic offsite archives, I can hardly imagine a simpler or more foolproof approach. However, I have some interface concerns, and a few essential pieces of basic functionality are currently missing, such as the capability to back up to local volumes and to create bootable duplicates. It also remains to be seen how it will stack up against Time Machine in Leopard. But look for a detailed review in the near future. The next major update of Backups will cover CrashPlan, as well as Time Machine, in detail (meaning it won’t be released until after Leopard ships—I’m not yet sure how long after—and yes, there’s definitely an echo in here).

In your review of backup software for Macworld (February 2007 issue), you gave Prosoft’s Data Backup a higher rating than Retrospect, which you’ve always recommended in the past. What gives? I got a few letters about this. Some wanted to know why Data Backup got such a high rating, since the version reviewed didn’t even support direct recording to optical discs. Others wanted to know if I’ve decided I no longer like Retrospect or am changing my recommendations.

Both are good programs, and both can accomplish the majority of backup tasks most people need. Data Backup has a much better interface and is actively under development. Retrospect has far better network support and scheduling options, and offers a long list of features that no other Mac backup program has—along with a sucky interface, bugs, expensive tech support, and updates that are very slow in appearing. (Also, there’s now a credible rumor afoot that EMC Insignia, having laid off a large percentage of the Retrospect team, is effectively putting the product into “life support” mode, or will soon.)

So it depends on what you need. For an individual backing up a single machine to a hard disk, Data Backup will be way easier to use, and is a better choice overall. But if you have more than one computer or are using optical or tape drives, the balance tips in Retrospect’s favor, despite the interface, bugs, and costly tech support. In addition, if you’ve purchased my Backups book, you have at your disposal a Retrospect primer that can take the edge off the interface, so I’m more likely to recommend Retrospect to someone reading my book than someone reading Macworld. Of course, the whole backup landscape could change with Leopard’s release, and I’ll revise my recommendations accordingly.

What other Take Control stuff are you working on? Egad. Lots of stuff. To wit:

  • Take Control of Upgrading to Leopard is pretty much my top priority; it’ll be somewhat like Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger and Take Control of Upgrading to Panther, but will contain tons of new information, such as more detail about preparing your system for an upgrade, dealing with the peculiarities of external USB and FireWire drives on Intel vs. PowerPC machines, upgrading various Windows-on-Mac installations, and much more. As usual, we plan to release the ebook at the exact moment Leopard goes on sale in the U.S., whenever that turns out to be.
  • An update to Take Control of .Mac, primarily to cover the new & improved Webmail interface. Not sure when this will ship, but it shouldn’t be too far in the future.
  • Take Control of Apple Mail in Leopard, which will of course follow in the footsteps of Take Control of Apple Mail in Tiger and Take Control of Email with Apple Mail. This, obviously, will also have to wait for Leopard, but I don’t know how soon thereafter it will appear.
  • Smaller updates to several other ebooks are under consideration.

What do you think about the iPhone? It looks cool. I’m not thrilled with the 2-year Cingular contract in the U.S., the lack of 3G support, the closed operating system, and the fact that it won’t be available until late this year in Europe and next year in Asia. But I want to reserve judgment until I see the final product. I am looking to buy both a new cell phone and a new iPod this year, so I’m going to defer those purchases until I see whether the iPhone can meet my needs. It might, and that would be groovy.