The Northern Spy: yet another migration
TweetFollow Us on Twitter

The Northern Spy: yet another migration

By Rick Sutcliffe

Last Month the Spy recounted his adventures with changing his Linux server to a bigger, badder machine running a much more recent OS. This month, he bit yet another migration bullet, moving into a new laptop.

Why an issue? Software. The longtime reader may recall the iconoclast Spy has continued to use good old reliable Eudora for his mail client, lo these many years. Well, he cannot do that even with Lion, much less Mountain Lion. BTW, the new machine is a 15-inch Retina PowerBook Pro tricked out with 16G of RAM and a 500G SSD.

Retinal impressions are somewhat mixed. The Spy has been using a 17-inch, mid-2007 vintage MacBook Pro, and going down a size causes a noticeable reduction in screen real estate -- though when in desktop mode hooked up to a larger monitor this is scarcely an issue. The new screen is sharper and more readable. with the glossy finish not so much a problem as it was in past years.

However, the changes are not so startling that they warrant all the excitement in the press. Having no Firewire connections, no ethernet connection, and a new type of power connector (Magsafe 2 is Apple proprietary; adapters available) are all artifacts of a much thinner case, one that cannot accommodate wider connectors. This little machine needs a lot of Thunderbolt adapters and splitters, and the ones for Firewire only became available after he had the new laptop a few weeks. At least there are two USB connections and an SD card slot, but all those cables do add to the cost. Was it worth it to save a few millimetres in thickness?

Video is multiple redundant. Besides the two Thunderbolt connections (which could be used for video if not taken for ethernet, Firewire, or an eSATA adapter) the right sides sports an HDMI outlet. Add a high speed cable and a $3 adapter to DVI on the back of the KVM switch (courtesy of the surplus section of Princess Auto) and the new puppy is tied in nicely to the Spy's desktop without using either Thunderbolt port for external video. Note that the machine could run four monitors simultaneously, though.

The Spy notes that the new machine (and OS?) is much better at detecting changes in attached monitors, except that when the KVM switch is pressed to make it active, the TB cable sometimes needs to be unplugged and plugged in again for the MacBook to notice the monitor. The keyboard is recessed slightly instead of protruding, so a screen protector cloth may not be necessary. However, it is the typical portable keyboard: okay for travel use, but not much for heavy duty writing. Also, an SSD is much faster than a mechanical drive, but the Spy knew that, as he already had three.

OTOH, the Spy notes that these new MacBooks are essentially non-upgradable. Order with the maximum RAM and drive, because changing anything in a system where everything is glued or soldered together is not easy. Ditto batteries, whose failure in three years will be a major repair. The Spy sees Steve Jobs' smiling face looking up at him from every aspect of this "you get what we make and no user-upgradeability" philosophy.

For this reason, the effective average lifetime of these boxes is bound to be lower. The Spy cannot see them lasting five+ years as have their predecessors. This one was delivered as a work machine and will be used principally for classroom projections; the economics for an individual purchaser are questionable. Buying one of the last remaining 17-nch MacBook Pros might be, for many people, a better investment.

On the OS side of things the new machine arrived with Lion installed, but Mountain Lion had just been released. So the Spy used his one Snow Leopard machine and his developer account to get a coupon to download the new cat from the Apple Store for free, made an installer disk from the image buried therein, then nuked the new machine, partitioned the drive and installed the new OS from scratch (always the best way).

See, the Spy has this paranoia about running anything, including an OS, that he hasn't installed himself. Note that downloads from the store are marked with the AppleID of the account, and can only be upgraded from that account. Thus pirated software (none here folks) will always be flagged as needing to be upgraded through some other account.

How does Mountain Lion look against its predecessors? Well, the Spy has never used Lion, so is comparing to the two Leopards. Hey, the more things change the more they remain the same. Yes, there are differences, but for the most part the Spy finds his workflow unaffected. A few tweaks to the Finder and other behaviour soon restored more of the look and feel he was used to, and life on the desktop continued more or less as always.

It's interesting, when one thinks about it, that anyone who could use the original Mac 128K machine back in the 70s could use today's comparative behemoths. The leap from Leopard/Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion is far, far less than that from OS9 to OS X, where much of his software became nonfunctional in a hurry, or saw new versions that took years to catch up to the old.

As for the new stuff, the notification centre seems obtrusive, and the finger gestures are of little value when attached to a desktop and in closed lid mode unless an external pad is also present. And, sorry to say this kiddies, but the Spy doesn't use Twitter, and only occasionally looks at his own Facebook page, so doesn't care about the "deep integration" of the two (the latter only in 10.8.2 BTW). Oh, get over the shock. The Spy has work to do, and prefers real friends to the virtual ones. Blood is thicker than a bit stream.

Most of the Spy's software had new versions available for Mountain Lion and there were very few issues. Firefox, Scrivener and NisusWrite Pro just ran, as did BBEdit, USB Overdrive (needed for Kensington trackball), DragThing, the MS bloatware and Excel. Synology Assistant and the Synology server software needed an upgrade, and no doubt other issues will surface as he tries out his lesser-used software over time. The much-touted new Safari 6 has unified search and browse into one box, which is convenient, but not earth shattering. The Spy generally prefers Firefox over Safari, though not by much. There are very few sites that neither can render.

Of considerable interest to the Spy is that his mid-2007, 17-inch MacBook Pro is the earliest machine that can run Mountain Lion. He's personally purchased that box from his workplace as a retired machine, bumped the memory and hard drive up to 6GB and 500G respectively, and will make it his desktop machine at home. He took the stable image of the new Retina book and copied it to the old machine, and now ... he writes even as the MBP17 is booting into Mountain Lion for the very first time, and ... and ... it works! Very good, though of course not as fast as the new Retina.)

The mail issue generated by far the most work of the entire migration process. The Spy had looked into this a few months back, and the reader might recall him deciding to go with Apple's Mail, then finding a workaround to allow him to carry that mail from machine to machine, backing up and restoring with his files partition.

However, the instructions he detailed previously in this space turned out (a) to be not quite correct, as a preference file (~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.mail.plist) also had to be symlinked to a copy on the files volume and (b) even then not applicable to Mountain Lion as it keeps Mail preferences in a different location (~/Library/Containers/com.apple.mail/Data/Library/com.apple.mail.plist) and this container shows every sign of being the beginning of further changes to the way Mail and other Apple apps will interact with the system (most of its contents are currently aliases, and likely to be changed).

The Spy had all but decided to simply store his entire home folder on the separate partition (easy to do BTW by copying the home folder there and setting the path to it in User Preferences), but experimenting with Mail in its normal location ran him against an insurmountable obstacle. What with personal, work, business, and other connections, the Spy reads a total of eleven email accounts. He has more addresses than that, but most of them forward to one of the eleven. (Note to spammers: all eleven are heavily filtered. Don't even think about it!)

Of course, although one can in theory import mailboxes and assorted other preferences, one cannot import accounts, and must painstakingly re-create every one (Eudora called them personalities) in Apple Mail. This is tedious, with several more steps than necessary, but he did the first six or so, then experimented. All worked well in Leopard, but when the whole thing was moved over to Mountain Lion, problems surfaced in the form of timeouts when contacting SMTP servers.

Mail could be popped, but every time an SMTP server could not be communicated with within a certain (short) span, Apple Mail then erased the password and put that sending account offline. The password then had to be re-entered. The errors happened at random over the accounts every time the Connection Doctor was run, affecting different SMTP information each time. The problem appears to be some kind of timing issue under Mountain Lion, but the failed interaction rendered Apple Mail completely unusable for the Spy.

Time to reconsider the runner-up (and only other candidate) for handling his mail--Thunderbird. Last time he had looked at it, functionality seemed an issue, but this time he had little choice. First up was the question of whether he could run it with all operating files on his files partition. The answer was yes, provided that (a) after Thunderbird is initialized for the first time the directory ~/Library/Thunderbird/Profiles/ is moved to the files volume, and (b) the file ~/Library/Thunderbird/profiles.ini is edited to point there (can be done with the profile manager or other means). That file then needs to be on every machine using (a copy of) the files volume, but is NOT a preference file, and does not change as Thunderbird is used (unless profiles are added), so needs to be placed (moved in) a single time per machine.

So far so good. Next to create the "accounts" and try them out on both Leopard and Mountain Lion. This proved much easier than in Apple Mail, as Thunderbird is clever about working out the correct settings by querying the mail server to determine its type. As with Apple Mail, POP accounts were not an issue. This time, thought, SMTP servers also worked correctly, though one must attempt to send a message, have that fail for the need to set the certificate, then send it again.

But all worked on both OSs. So he bulled ahead, setting up all eleven accounts, compacting his Eudora mailboxes, transferring them all using Eudora Mailbox Cleaner (runs under Rosetta, not on Lion+) though Thunderbird itself has an import function--not tested,--then reorganizing things to accommodate Thunderbird's workflow, which is not all that different, but takes some getting used to. Eudora Mailbox Cleaner put all the mailboxes into a new profile in the default location rather than in the one on the files volume, but these could all be moved in the Finder to where they belonged, and afterwards all was functional.

Once Thunderbird was tricked out with a variety of extensions (25 so far) to improve the workflow (including a very poor date presentation) and to provide assorted on-screen clickable shortcuts, he then had to re-mark all the archived messages as "read" as importing changes them to unread. That done, all seemed copacetic. Thunderbird will take some getting used to, but it just works, and on all three tested machines and OSs is faster than either old Eudora or new Apple Mail. The only settings the Spy has used in the past that are not available in Thunderbird are (a) one to uncheck an account from being read on manual mail checks (he never does automatic ones) and (b) another to open every folder that has new mail in a separate window.

Almost the first thing he did to keep the clutter in the folders column down was to nest folders within accounts by category. That heklps. It would be even better, however, to allow the user to create "smart" folders across multiple accounts, or to allow the top folder in a hierarchy to be smart. Right now, it appears only the in, out, draft, and junk boxes can do this, and the action is automatic. Filters creation is about the same degree of difficulty as in Eudora and Apple Mail, but has to be done from scratch, as filters are not imported.

Bottom Lines

The Retina Mac is a nice machine with a very readable screen, but the price per feature may be too steep for most people, and the lack of upgrading options will turn others off. Also a clutter of adapters is needed on the desktops and in the carrying case for Firewire, ethernet, and video.

Apple Mail was a non-starter for the Spy. However, the reader should note that all his testing was done under 10.8.0, and by the time 10.8.1 was installed, he had given up completely on Apple Mail. On alternate hardware, if the wind is blowing from the east on a Tuesday, other users' kilometreage will surely vary. On the third hand, Thunderbird is good, fast, a brother to Firefox, and configurable to death. It does freeze or lose functionality occasionally, especially after installing or removing new extensions, but these may be artifacts of frequently changing contexts.

Thunderbird mail files have survived several trips among a variety of machines now, and the Spy is fairly confident all is working. Time to delete all the attempts at making Apple Mail work and write off the hours spent to experience. The Firefox/Thunderbird development communities do a terrific job, and are churning out updates as we speak, so the product is likely to get better and more configurable. Time will tell all, but the Spy is at the moment happy with this email client.

So, call this a passing first midterm exam for both hardware and software, with the final exam some distance off (so far an A- or better for all but Apple Mail, which gets a D- and the price of the Retina MAcBook Pro which gets a C-). No doubt there will be further software and hardware adventures in coming months. Stay tuned.

--The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor and chair of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several organizations, including in the corporate sector, and participated in industry standards at the national and international level. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and six novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Amazon's Booksurge.

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Arjay Enterprises:

The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com
opundo : http://opundo.com
Sheaves Christian Resources : http://sheaves.org
WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net
WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net
nameman : http://nameman.net
General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Books:
Author Site: http://www.arjay.ca
Publisher's Site: http://www.writers-exchange.com/Richard-Sutcliffe.html

URLs for some items mentioned in this column

Eudora Mailbox Cleaner:: http://www.andreasamann.com/MacOSX/Eudora_Mailbox_Cleaner
Thunderbird:: http://www.mozilla.org/thunderbird/
USB Overdrive:: http://www.usboverdrive.com/USBOverdrive/News.html

 
AAPL
$95.60
Apple Inc.
-2.55
MSFT
$43.16
Microsoft Corpora
-0.42
GOOG
$571.60
Google Inc.
-15.82

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

OneNote 15.2 - Free digital notebook fro...
OneNote is your very own digital notebook. With OneNote, you can capture that flash of genius, that moment of inspiration, or that list of errands that’s too important to forget. Whether you’re at... Read more
iStat Menus 4.22 - Monitor your system r...
iStat Menus lets you monitor your system right from the menubar. Included are 8 menu extras that let you monitor every aspect of your system. Some features: CPU -- Monitor cpu usage. 7 display... Read more
Ember 1.8 - Versatile digital scrapbook....
Ember (formerly LittleSnapper) is your digital scrapbook of things that inspire you: websites, photos, apps or other things. Just drag in images that you want to keep, organize them into relevant... Read more
OmniPlan 2.3.6 - Robust project manageme...
With OmniPlan, you can create logical, manageable project plans with Gantt charts, schedules, summaries, milestones, and critical paths. Break down the tasks needed to make your project a success,... Read more
Command-C 1.1.1 - Clipboard sharing tool...
Command-C is a revolutionary app which makes easy to share your clipboard between iOS and OS X using your local WiFi network, even if the app is not currently opened. Copy anything (text, pictures,... Read more
Knock 1.1.7 - Unlock your Mac by knockin...
Knock is a faster, safer way to sign in. You keep your iPhone with you all the time. Now you can use it as a password. You never have to open the app -- just knock on your phone twice, even when it's... Read more
Mellel 3.3.6 - Powerful word processor w...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.0.4 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
Freeway Pro 7.0 - Drag-and-drop Web desi...
Freeway Pro lets you build websites with speed and precision... without writing a line of code! With it's user-oriented drag-and-drop interface, Freeway Pro helps you piece together the website of... Read more
Drive Genius 3.2.4 - Powerful system uti...
Drive Genius is an OS X utility designed to provide unsurpassed storage management. Featuring an easy-to-use interface, Drive Genius is packed with powerful tools such as a drive optimizer, a... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Dawn of the Immortals Review
Dawn of the Immortals Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: RESPECTABLE EXPLORATIONUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Dawn of the Immortals might not re-invent the wheel, but it does tweak it a little... | Read more »
80 Days Review
80 Days Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: EPIC ADVENTUREUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A fantastic and fascinating re-envisioning of the classic novel by Jules Verne, 80 Days is a delightful... | Read more »
Battleheart Legacy Guide
The world of Battleheart Legacy is fun and deep; full of wizards, warriors, and witches. Here are some tips and tactics to help you get the most enjoyment out of this great game. | Read more »
Puzzle Roo Review
Puzzle Roo Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: PUZZLE-BASED TWISTUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A different take on the usual block dropping puzzle game, Puzzle Roo is quite pleasant.   | Read more »
Super Crossfire Re-Release Super Crossfi...
Super Crossfire Re-Release Super Crossfighter Coming Soon, Other Radiangames Titles Go 50% Off Posted by Ellis Spice on July 31st, 2014 [ | Read more »
Hexiled Review
Hexiled Review By Rob Thomas on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: HEX SELLSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad In space, no one can hear you… spell? Hexiled is a neat concept for a word scramble puzzle, but it doesn’t go too... | Read more »
Summoners War: Sky Arena Passes 10 Milli...
Summoners War: Sky Arena Passes 10 Million Installs! Posted by Jessica Fisher on July 31st, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Deep Loot Review
Deep Loot Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: DIVE DEEPUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Dive deep in this fun explore-em-up that’s a little grind heavy but ultimately quite entertaining.   | Read more »
Despicable Me: Minion Rush is One Year O...
Despicable Me: Minion Rush is One Year Old, Gets its Biggest Update Yet Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Fish & Shark Review
Fish & Shark Review By Jordan Minor on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: FLAPPY FISHUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Fish & Shark’s beauty is only scale deep.   | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

All Over For Tablets Or Just A Maturing, Evol...
CNN’s David Goldman weighs in on tablet sector doom and gloom, asking rhetorically: “Is this the beginning of the end for the tablet?” Answering that, he contends that hysteria and panic are... Read more
Letterspace 1.0.1 – New Free iOS Text Editor...
Bangkok, Thailand based independent developer Sittipon Simasanti has released Letterspace, a new text editor for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices. Letterspace is a note taking app with an... Read more
Save up to $130 on an iPad mini with Apple re...
The Apple Store has Certified Refurbished 2nd generation iPad minis with Retina Displays available for up to $130 off the cost of new models, starting at $339. Apple’s one-year warranty is included... Read more
iPad Cannibalization Threat “Overblown”
Seeking Alpha’s Kevin Greenhalgh observes that while many commentators think Apple’s forthcoming 5.5-inch panel iPhone 6 will cannibalize iPad sales, in his estimation, these concerns are being... Read more
Primate Labs Releases July 2014 MacBook Pro P...
Primate Labs’ John Poole has posted Geekbench 3 results for most of the new MacBook Pro models that Apple released on Tuesday. Poole observes that overall performance improvements for the new MacBook... Read more
Apple Re-Releases Bugfixed MacBook Air EFI Fi...
Apple has posted a bugfixed version EFI Firmware Update 2.9 a for MacBook Air (Mid 2011) models. The update addresses an issue where systems may take longer to wake from sleep than expected, and... Read more
Save $50 on the 2.5GHz Mac mini, plus free sh...
B&H Photo has the 2.5GHz Mac mini on sale for $549.99 including free shipping. That’s $50 off MSRP, and B&H will also include a free copy of Parallels Desktop software. NY sales tax only. Read more
Save up to $140 on an iPad Air with Apple ref...
Apple is offering Certified Refurbished iPad Airs for up to $140 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free. Stock tends to come and go with some of these... Read more
$250 price drop on leftover 15-inch Retina Ma...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on 2013 15″ Retina MacBook Pros by $250 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.3GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $2249, $250 off... Read more
More iPad Upgrade Musings – The ‘Book Mystiqu...
Much discussed recently, what with Apple reporting iPad sales shrinkage over two consecutive quarters, is that it had apparently been widely assumed that tablet users would follow a two-year hardware... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Sr. Product Leader, *Apple* Store Apps - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.