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This is What Snow Leopard Needs

Before the release of Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard,” the computing world was abuzz with the possible inclusion of ZFS—Zettabyte File System—into the new operating system. That rumor was largely fueled by the rumors swirling around about what would officially become known as Time Machine. It turns out that ZFS did make its way into Leopard, albeit on a read-only basis, and it isn’t the technology behind Time Machine.

Now, the next version of Mac OS X, version 10.6 code-named “Snow Leopard,” is said to be more evolutionary than revolutionary. Personally, I’d love to see Apple fully embrace ZFS as its file system of choice, and then throw away the goofy “flying through space” UI in Time Machine to embrace something like this. Of course, Apple can seriously turn up the UI polish, but this kind of approach makes sense and seems relatively easy to incorporate into the Finder interface.

So what do you think? Am I way out in left field here, or does anyone else think this seems like a good idea?

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For those that follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I purchased and installed OmniFocus for iPhone over the weekend. If you are a GTD lover and a Mac user, you are no doubt familiar with the “regular” OmniFocus application from The Omni Group. I’ve been using OmniFocus for quite some time now (I wrote about that back in February), and I was really excited about the possibility of taking it mobile with me on my iPhone.

A number of things stand out after using this combination for a few days:

  • I’m too cheap to pay for a MobileMe subscription, so I just setup a WebDAV site on my hosting package. It’s not the greatest in the world (I’d prefer to run WebDAV over SSL on the standard HTTPS port, for example), but it works. However, less technically inclined folks would have had a problem without a MobileMe subscription. I hear that Omni is planning on adding Bonjour syncing support, but I can’t imagine that will be anything other than Wi-Fi only.
  • It takes quite a while to sync my iPhone after a day of working in OmniFocus on my MacBook Pro. This is even with a good 3G data connection. I don’t know that there’s anything that can be done about this, nor is this even anyone’s “fault”; it’s just an observation I’ve seen thus far.
  • In an effort to stretch the battery out as long as possible, I generally keep Location Services turned off. This limits some of the location-aware functionality that OmniFocus for iPhone features. Since the release of the 2.1 firmware, my battery life has improved; perhaps I can turn on Location Services and not suffer too much of a battery hit. If anyone has any feedback on how much of a hit it is to keep Location Services turned on, I’d certainly appreciate it.
  • I’m finding that my current set of contexts don’t necessarily translate well to the iPhone version. Currently my contexts are more for grouping similar tasks than by location or resource; I’m thinking I may need to move to more location-based contexts. I’m not yet sure how that will work or how I’ll integrate that with my workflow. Again, suggestions are more than welcome.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with OmniFocus for iPhone. (In fact, I’m pretty pleased with my iPhone in general.) There’s always room for improvement, but given my experience with The Omni Group with applications like OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner I’m quite confident that the application will improve over time.

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While browsing the list of Virtual Strategy Magazine’s list of virtualization blogs, I came across the link for x86virtualization.com, a site that I have browsed from time to time in the past. On this particular occasion, one particular article caught my attention:

Concerns Over VMware Fusion 2.0 Beta 2 and Parallels Desktop:

VMware touts the updates to their newest beta release of VMware Fusion to be: More Seamless, Safer, More Mac-friendly, with More Tech-Pro Tools. Now is it safer, or did it cross the lines of “The Rules of Virtualization”.

In the post, the author proceeds to elaborate on the “3 Rules of Virtualization,” similar to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. I’ll let you read the full article to get the idea, but basically the author is stating that virtualization should not cross “boundaries” between the guest operating systems and the host systems on which the virtualization solution is running.

In the data center, I’d agree with that. Products like VMware Infrastructure, Hyper-V, and XenServer should strictly adhere to the basic properties of virtualization; namely, encapsulation, partitioning, and isolation. Interaction between host and guest are strictly against the rules.

On the consumer side, though, where this article squarely hits—let’s be honest, VMware Fusion and Parallels are hardly enterprise data center products—I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, the blurring of lines, the removal of boundaries between virtualized and non-virtualized should continue. This is something I first suggested and advocated almost 2 years ago when I introduced the idea of “application agnosticism”. It was then, when VMware Fusion was still in beta and Parallels was in early release, that I suggested that the blurring of boundaries was exactly what needed to occur on the client/consumer side.

Virtualization makes many things possible. The discussions that led up to the introduction of application agnosticism centered around the future of the OS, where some believed that the future of computing revolved around the idea of a collection of VMs—an Internet browsing VM, a security VM that provided anti-virus/firewall/IPS functionality, a third VM for productivity applications, etc. Lots of geeks have setups similar to this on a smaller scale. But ordinary users aren’t geeks. They don’t understand “virtual machines” and all that jazz. They just want a computer that works. So for virtualization to succeed on the desktop, it has to disappear. It has to fade away into the background, to become unnoticed and invisible. And that’s exactly what VMware Fusion seeks to do, and it’s what is being added to version 6.5 of VMware Workstation. That’s exactly what Microsoft is doing with the technology acquired from Kidaro. They are making virtualization disappear into the background, so the users can focus on what they really want: getting stuff done.

Does the blurring of boundaries create problems? Certainly. So does connecting your computer to the Internet, but I don’t see people crying doom and gloom over that! We just install our anti-virus, update our anti-malware, turn on our multiple firewalls, and off we go. Why should it be any different with consumer-grade virtualization? It shouldn’t.

On the consumer side, virtualization won’t succeed until it becomes transparent. Just like in the recent film I, Robot, where the Three Laws of Robotics had to be broken in order to move forward, in the evolution of consumer/client/desktop virtualization the Three Laws of Virtualization are going to need to be broken before we can move forward.

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Yesterday I bought my iPhone 3G. When the original iPhone was released, I didn’t buy one because it lacked 3G network connectivity, and the Samsung BlackJack 2 I was using was already 3G capable. In addition, the BlackJack supported ActiveSync for connectivity to my corporate Exchange infrastructure, and the iPhone didn’t. After the iPhone 3G was released, my two primary complaints had now been removed, and I said that I would get one—but not right away. I wanted some time to let early adopters get the phone, figure out the limitations, and find workarounds for those limitations (where possible).

Now that the iPhone 3G has been available for a couple months, and since my birthday is coming up, my family decided that an iPhone 3G would be my (early) birthday present. While others had waited in lines for hours when the iPhone 3G was first released, I walked into my local AT&T store, picked up a 16GB black iPhone 3G, activated it with my existing number (I’m a current AT&T customer), and walked out—all in less than 20 minutes. The longest part of the process was selecting a new belt clip/case for the iPhone. There are definitely some benefits to waiting a while before buying!

So far, I’m pleased with the iPhone 3G. My only concern is battery life, but feedback from other iPhone 3G users in my office have recommended turning off Bluetooth and location-based services until they are needed. Some have even recommended turning off 3G, but I’ll leave that on for right now and see how it works.

I’ve also been browsing the App Store, looking for some useful iPhone applications. I’ll almost certainly buy OmniFocus for iPhone. Of course, then I’ll need to figure out how to get OmniFocus for iPhone synchronizing with OmniFocus for Mac, which I already use. Any other iPhone users have recommendations for useful iPhone applications? Suggestions for useful free applications would be particularly appreciated. Also, any other tips or pointers of which I should be aware? Thanks!

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Here’s Virtualization Short Take #12, a collection of links I’ve gathered over the last week or so and my thoughts on them. Enjoy!

  • For those that missed it in the Release Notes, VMware added support for Storage VMotion and 10Gb Ethernet with iSCSI SANs, as outlined in this VI Team blog entry. I went back and reviewed the Release Notes and didn’t see this listed anywhere, so this is news to me. Of course, I already knew that Storage VMotion worked just fine with iSCSI, but this added formal support for iSCSI.
  • Virtualfuture.info published some good recommendations for running Citrix in a VI3 environment. If you run Citrix Presentation Server…er, XenApp…in a VI3 environment, these tuning tips may prove quite handy.
  • VMware’s Virtual Reality blog posted an entry on some of the architectural advantages of VMware Infrastructure in comparison to the two leading competitors, Xen (any Xen-based solution) and Hyper-V. Many of the things listed as advantages by VMware are severe points of contention with the other vendors, such as the direct vs. indirect I/O model. Ultimately, time will tell which model was the best; I honestly don’t know enough about the deep dark internals to really state which is better. One thing I am glad to see pointed out is the true comparison of hypervisor sizes; Microsoft can say all they want that Hyper-V is only 600K in size and therefore is the “thinnest” hypervisor, but the truth of the matter is that Hyper-V can’t run without Windows Server 2008 in the parent partition. As a result, it doesn’t really matter how “thin” Hyper-V is, does it?
  • Via Mike Laverick, I learned that Microsoft may have brought up the whole 64-bit hypervisor vs. 32-bit hypervisor argument yet again. Mike used a snippet from this Microsoft Virtualization Team Blog entry; in reading it myself, I don’t get quite the same 64-bit vs. 32-bit that Mike picked up. That’s good, because I didn’t want to have to go there again. Personally, the tone I picked up from the whole article was one of educating people far too accustomed to Virtual Server/VirtualPC and trying to educate them on how Hyper-V is different.
  • Virtualization analyst Chris Wolf recently posted an entry in which he questioned if Apple would capitalize on the opportunity that virtualization is creating. It’s an interesting scenario, one that is similar to a scenario that I discussed a couple of years ago in a piece titled “Application Agnosticism.” In that article, I suggested that seamless host-guest interactions with virtualization software (now implemented by VMware as Unity and by Parallels as Coherence) would usher in a new wave of computing. I suggested that Mac OS X was ahead of the curve because of its ability to run native OS X applications, UNIX applications, X11 applications, Windows applications via WINE (or the commercial variant CrossOver Office), and applications from any other operating system via virtualization. Sounds like I may have been a bit ahead of my time!
  • Chad continues discussing VMware HA with another post on some additional configuration options for HA. Also check out the comments with links to even more information on HA’s advanced configuration options.
  • This VMware KB article has some good information on getting LUN identification information. The breakdown of the command-line output from esxcfg-mpath is particularly helpful (and for that reason I’ve added it to my del.icio.us bookmarks).
  • Rich of VM /ETC shares with us a “Doh!” moment he had when he saw this simple method for identifying VMs with snapshots. Sometimes it’s the simplest solutions that evade us the longest. Here’s what I want to know: Aaron, what exactly does “/HEADDESK” mean, anyway?
  • This article at SearchNetworking.com brings to light some of the challenges networking professionals face with server virtualization. I do agree with one point made in the article regarding the mapping of applications—what the end users really care about—to the networking infrastructure. VMware’s support for CDP in recent versions of VMware Infrastructure is a step in the right direction, but there is still more work to do for sure. I’m not so sure about the rest of the points in the article, but I may be an exception to the norm; I was a CCNA for a while (on track for CCNP) and have done my fair share of Cisco configurations, so I’m no stranger to the networking world. The use of VLANs to ease configuration in a server virtualization environment seems just second nature to me. Also, I did note that the author indicated that “server administrators sometimes inappropriately configure the switches to create a loop” (referring to vSwitches in ESX). How exactly does that happen? I’ve never seen a way to link two vSwitches together without using a VM.

As always, readers’ thoughts are welcome in the comments!

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Switching to the Mac

No, this posting isn’t about me; I switched to the Mac years ago. Instead, this posting is about a story that I’d seen quite a while ago, but just hadn’t gotten around to discussing here on the blog.

Quite some time ago, Computerworld ran some articles about an enterprise company that was switching entirely to Macs. The articles are here:

Mac Attack! An enterprise PC shop switches to Apple
Mac switch revisited: An enterprise PC shop’s move to Apple isn’t as easy as expected

It’s an interesting pair of articles that help to highlight the attention that Apple and Mac OS X are getting these days. In this particular case, I found this statement particularly compelling:

Frantz says AWC had calculated “significant savings” associated with migrating to Apple software during the proof-of-concept testing last summer. “We knew we would have sufficient ROI for the change based on some broad generalizations, and the savings were enough to green-light the project,” he says.

Everyone likes to talk about how expensive Macs are, and yet here is a company that has found “significant savings” upon switching to Apple hardware running Mac OS X. Interesting.

To be fair, the company in the article—AWC—isn’t going completely Mac; they are keeping SQL Server on Windows and a few other applications as well. That’s fine; I’ve long advocated to use the best tool for the job. If SQL Server is the best tool for the job for them, then they should use it. I’m just glad to see that companies are increasingly recognizing that Windows on the desktop isn’t always the best tool for the job anymore.

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ActiveSync on the iPhone

Apple has just given me one more reason to possibly switch to an iPhone…

iPhone opens to Exchange e-mail

I’m currently using a Samsung BlackJack II, a Windows Mobile 6-based device with 3G connectivity. The e-mail functionality is great, but not having an easy way to keep my Address Book contacts in sync with my phone is a major hassle. It looks like using an iPhone would help address that.

Now all we need is 3G (UMTS/HSDPA) functionality and a price drop…OK, at least the first is an actual possibility.

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Filling the Gap With a Trigger

In part 2 of my informal discussion about getting things done with my Mac, I mentioned that I needed a way to invoke an AppleScript from within NetNewsWire. I was already using Mail Act-On and an AppleScript to easily move information from Mail.app into OmniFocus, and had a similar AppleScript for NNW but no easy way to invoke it.

It wasn’t until late last night that I realized I already had a solution for the problem I’d been describing. I’d been searching for some way to quickly and easily invoke an AppleScript from within NetNewsWire—why not just use a Quicksilver Trigger?

I already use Quicksilver for tons of other things: accessing my Camino bookmarks (would love to be able to get to my Camino history…hint, hint); launching applications; getting information on a contact in the Address Book; even launching other scripts for various tasks. Why not leverage Quicksilver for this as well?

Just a few minutes later—the process only took a few minutes in the Quicksilver Preferences pane to configure the trigger—and I was quickly and easily moving information from NetNewsWire to OmniFocus.

Thank goodness for Quicksilver!

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Leopard Upgrade

So I upgraded my laptop this past weekend to Mac OS X version 10.5, aka “Leopard”. I’ve been reasonably pleased with the upgrade so far.

I keep most of my applications up to date, so I didn’t have too many applications that weren’t already Leopard compatible. That’s an advantage of being a slightly later adopter as opposed to being one of those guys waiting in line when the new OS was released. In addition, I gain the benefit of the Mac OS X 10.5.1 update, which addressed a number of issues with the initial Leopard release.

So far I’ve only run into a couple of issues, both of them very minor:

  • Mail.app 3.1 complains about the self-signed SSL certificate that my hosting provider uses with IMAP-TLS and SMTP-TLS. This occurred with Tiger as well, but some instructions I’d seen before the upgrade indicated that I might be able to bypass those warnings by setting the certificate to “Always Trust”. This doesn’t seem to work. Admittedly, a very minor issue.
  • My blogging application, ecto, was supposedly not Leopard compatible with the version I was using (version 2.4.2, Intel build). (I left the older version installed side-by-side with the newer version and the old version seems to run fine, though.) So I switched to a beta build of ecto3, which is a complete rewrite of the blogging application, and I’ve run into a few little issues there. Those are directly related to the ecto3 upgrade, though, and not necessarily to the Leopard upgrade itself.

One of the first “tweaks” I reached for was the tweak to return the menu bar to a more opaque status. There are a number of sites out there providing instructions; here’s the Terminal command I used:

sudo defaults write /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/
com.apple.WindowServer 'EnvironmentVariables'
-dict 'CI_NO_BACKGROUND_IMAGE' 0.62

The command worked like a champ, and my menu bar was restored to some sense of normalcy. I initially also switched the Dock to a 2-D smoked glass look, but then switched back to the default 3-D appearance. I figured I’d give the new Dock appearance a chance before just banishing it to the ether.

I haven’t been back to the office or at a customer’s site since the upgrade, obviously, so I don’t have any feedback yet on interoperability with Windows-based networks, Kerberos support, etc. I do need to look up the information on Leopard’s built-in support for SSH keys, since I relied upon SSHKeyChain before the Leopard upgrade. If anyone has any pointers on that one, please let me know.

One huge missing piece so far are the Leopard-compatible versions of MailTags and Mail Act-On. I have the beta versions of both, but I’m a bit hesitant to use them—I don’t want to take any chances with my mail, if you know what I mean. Anyone out there using the beta versions of these on Leopard and have some feedback for me? Are they safe yet, or should I wait just a bit longer yet?

Spaces is pretty cool; it’s nice to have virtual desktops back with Mac OS X again. I’d used a pretty fair number of virtual desktop applications on my Mac, eventually settling on VirtueDesktops (then just called Virtue) and then discontinuing my use of virtual desktops after my Tiger upgrade. VirtueDesktops went through various stages of support and non-support during the Tiger upgrade and the migration to the Intel platform, eventually ending development due to the expected introduction of Spaces. While Spaces doesn’t have all the features that VirtueDesktops had, it is at least fully supported. In addition, the former developer of VirtueDesktops is working on something called Hyperspaces, which will—as the name suggests—extend Spaces to include features that VirtueDesktops used to have. In any case, Spaces seems to work fine so far.

I’ll post more information as I continue to get accustomed to Leopard; in the meantime, I’d love to hear any feedback from other Leopard users on your experiences. Feel free to put your feedback in the comments below!

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Apparently, a bug similar to one fixed by Apple in March 2006 has appeared in Leopard.  More information is available from the heise Security and Dark Reading web sites.

The flaw allows attackers to create e-mail attachments that appear to be harmless—say, like a JPEG image—but are actually executables that run malicious code.  In Mac OS X 10.4, users were warned that the attachment is actually an executable file.  It’s doubtful that this new bug is the same bug as was fixed in earlier versions of the OS, although the end result is the same.

I have not seen any information as to a workaround for this flaw, other than to avoid opening e-mail attachments.  It is my understanding that this flaw was made public right around the same time as the release of the latest security updates for Panther and Tiger and the first major update for Leopard, 10.5.1, so I don’t think that a patch for this flaw has yet been made available.

I hope that the emergence of a flaw similar to one corrected in earlier versions of the OS does not indicate a more severe security problem within Leopard or even within Apple.  As it currently stands, I have concerns that Apple is not taking security seriously enough and is “resting on the laurels” that Mac OS X is already secure enough because of its UNIX underpinnings.  It would be a shame for a great OS such as Mac OS X to be tarnished because Apple wasn’t willing to put forth the effort to make it as secure as it needs to be in today’s environments.  Don’t get me wrong; I love the Mac, and I love Mac OS X.  This kind of mistake, however, would get someone like Microsoft tarred and feathered.  Why aren’t we holding Apple to the same standards?  Is Apple really doing enough for Mac security?

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