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#668: Data Recovery Costs vs. Backing Up, Parallels Server, Using a Firmware Password, Tip of the Week


Happy Tuesday!

It’s another beautiful Tuesday as Summer rolls in to the Green Mountains. Driving to my consults, I took full advantage of the warm weather with my windows rolled down. Toby joined in too, sticking his head far out the window and wind-drunkenly smiling all the way. We spent much of the weekend doing fun outdoor activities including spending time in my Father’s garden over Father’s Day. Gardening is a craft that runs in the family and it’s always a joy to plant and watch things grow. Unfortunately, this year the gophers and voles are also enjoying watching our garden grow and they’ve been munching the broccoli, chard and beans to bits.

In more technical excitement, after updating my first generation iPhone to 3.0 and realizing there are quite a few features that I can’t take advantage of, I bit the bullet and ordered a 16GB 3G S! It comes as no surprise that despite it showing as “in stock,” after I placed the order, it’s now in the black hole of “backordered.” I’ve attempted to call AT&T a few times now to check on the backorder ETA, but each time I call and navigate through their plethora of menus I’m put on hold for 5-10 minutes and then “an error occurs” and I’m hung up on. It’s happened so many times now that I have to laugh at what an utter failure their phone system is.

I expect to wait for new products and am not the type of person who really needs the new hip thing the day it comes out, or at least this is what I keep trying to tell myself. That said, I do really care about how I’m treated as a consumer. No matter how amazing the product is, having a negative customer experience can significantly effect how one feels about the product and the business. This is one of the reasons that focusing on creating a positive customer experience is so important for us at Small Dog. Not only do we sell great products at fair prices, but we have an amazing team that can walk you through your purchase in-store or over the phone and then help you with support, repairs and personal consultations as you grow with your products.

I hope you enjoy this week’s issue of Tech Tails; see you next week!


  Data Recovery Costs vs. Backing Up  

One of the toughest things a technician has to do is tell customers that their hard drive has failed and recovering the data will likely cost thousands of dollars. A Small Dog customer brought in her 24-inch iMac earlier this month because it would not start up. It was on the bench and diagnosed as a failed hard drive a few hours later, and we contacted her with a few options: replace the hard drive under warranty and return the failed drive to Apple, or send the drive to DriveSavers for professional recovery.

DriveSavers is widely acknowledged as the most capable and best-equipped data recovery firm in the world, and our customer was happy to receive an external hard drive with 100% of her data mere days after sending in the toasted one. She was not happy about the bill, though, which was more than the cost of her computer!

We spoke at length on the phone about how all hard drives fail eventually and how she needs to have a backup system in place. She clearly understood what I was saying, and I made it clear that our conversation was not really about sales but about her protection. No backup drive was purchased.

Three weeks later, the warranty hard drive replacement has failed again. She didn’t back it up and has lost three weeks of work and simply cannot afford the pricey recovery again.

David Lerner, an owner of the preeminent New York City Apple Specialist and repair shop Tekserve, has in his email signature “May you have 1,000 backups and never need one.” It’s a mantra we all should take seriously.

This is just one more sad story about 100% preventable data loss. Do yourself a favor and get a Time Capsule, an external drive, even email important documents to yourself or stash them on your iDisk. A $200 Time Capsule is much cheaper than a $2200 data recovery!

Do yourself a favor… (be sure to click the green links on the product page to view all specials)
Time Capsule 500GB from $199.99
Time Capsule 1TB from $349.99

  Protection by Firmware Password  

There are plenty of ways to secure the data on your laptop. There’s FileVault, which encrypts your entire home folder and often causes corruption-induced heartbreak; you can store your files in the cloud using your iDisk, a home server in conjunction with Back to My Mac and MobileMe; or Google Docs, where you can keep your laptop free of any sensitive materials, keeping them instead on a flash drive.

You can use a firmware password to set up low-level password protection on your Mac. If it were stolen, the thief would have to know the password in order to use the computer at all. Of course, he could extract the hard drive and access your data, but the computer itself would be useless.

Setting a firmware password on your Intel Mac blocks the use of T, N, or C to put the computer into Target Disk Mode, NetBoot mode, or boot from optical media. It also blocks the ability to start up in single user mode, verbose mode, to reset the PRAM or boot disk in boot manager. Of course, you are required to enter the password to boot up normally.

If you forget your firmware password, there are ways for your authorized service provider to get around the security. Be prepared with some undeniable proof of ownership before you ask to have the protection removed. And no, I cannot disclose how to circumvent the password!

You can read more about this hidden feature of your Mac at the Apple Knowledge Base:

  Tip of the Week: Where Did I Download This?  

In the days of the classic MacOS, all downloaded files automatically had the web address entered into the comments field of their Info window. Of course, we had to regularly rebuild our desktop back then, and this often meant losing the contents of info windows. Thankfully, the days of rebuilding the desktop are long gone, and this feature is still present, though slightly different.

In OS X you can select a downloaded file in the Finder and select Get Info from the File menu, or press command-i to bring up the info window. Look for the “More Info” section, and click the disclosure triangle at left to reveal the file’s origin in the form of a web address.

This is a useful trick for those of us who stash away media, either for archival purposes or in a media server type environment. Sometimes these files become corrupted and re-downloading them is often the easiest way to get them back.

  Growing Interest in Parallels Server for Mac  

In our position as one of the larger Apple Specialists, it has been interesting to observe that an increasing number of businesses are adding Macs to their IT infrastructure. We’re seeing Macs in every department (legal, accounting, administrative, creative) of businesses in many different industries. We’ve even seen quite a few business become 100% Mac-based. (Small Dog is 99% Mac based — we have a single old Gateway hooked up to the UPS shipping system in our warehouse.)

This trend really took off when Apple switched to Intel processors. It seems the “Intel Inside” designation was slightly more comforting to traditional IT professionals than the totally foreign G4 and G5-equipped Macs from years past.

As IT professionals begrudgingly allowed a few Macs to infiltrate their Windows networks, the workers they supported were finally allowed to use a Mac on the job (after using them for years at home). IT pros saw that the sky didn’t fall when Macs joined their IT ecosystem, and that Macs mostly just worked and stayed out of the way (statically Macs need less support than PCs).

InfoWorld reports that “A mid-2008 Yankee Group survey of 750 senior IT executives found nearly 80 percent have Macs onboard, up from 47 percent in 2006. Nearly a quarter of these have 30 or more Mac boxes.”

Recently we’ve noticed an uptick of interest in the Apple Xserve and in Parallels Server for Mac. The Xserve is Apple’s highly rated, rack-mountable, scalable server. It runs the relatively easy-to-use Mac OS 10.5 Server software. At Small Dog, we depend on a rack of Xserves (photo) to host, network our workstations, etc.

Many businesses embracing the Mac platform are looking for a Mac server that will still allow them to run a version of Windows (or Linux) Server. We suggest Parallels Server for Mac. Parallels is already delivering the leading desktop virtualization solution for Mac (Parallels Desktop). They also offer the industry’s only server virtualization solution designed for Mac.

At InfoWorld, Bill Earlywine (IT manager at Video Product Group), says, “We use a Mac server to manage both Windows and Mac users via Mac OS X SMB and Open Directory authentication infrastructure. Our primary enterprise controls are authentication and access control, rather than policy enforcement. Virtualization helps us homogenize management tasks. For instance, we have Windows Server supporting specific functions, running under Parallels on a Mac Xserve, and use Apple’s server management suite for server monitoring and administration.”

We like Parallels because it supports side-by-side installation of Mac OS, Windows, and Linux on existing (aka, older) as well as new systems. Parallels Server for Mac has 32/64-bit support, and the Parallels Management Console provides integrated management of servers and VMs across different platforms.

This solution allows small/medium as well as large organizations to:
  • Run server workloads such as email, databases and web applications across different platforms on Apple XServes in virtualized environment
  • Standardize server platforms on Apple XServes while incorporating Windows, Linux, FreeBSD into virtual environments
  • Fully leverage XServe utilization and IT infrastructure investments
  • Reduce cost and complexity of managing the IT infrastructure with effective cross-platform deployment and management on the XServe hardware platform
  • Ensure business continuity with cross-platform migration and system backups

The current version of Parallels Server features hardware-acceleration extensions including Intel’s Virtualization Technology (Intel VT-x) to provide optimal virtualization.

Parallels Server and its integrated tools cost just $919.99 from Small Dog Electronics.

In January, 2008, the editors of Macworld wrote that “Parallels Server for Mac enables you to run almost any server OS in virtualized environments on the reliable Mac platform — and that’s something you can’t do today on a Windows machine.”

Learn more about Parallels for Mac, including the Desktop and Server versions, click here.

  Reader Feedback: Application Switcher Addenda  

A few of you wrote in last week offering some additional tips on use of the Application Switcher.

Josh writes:
“I just thought I would mention another feature, which is running application switching in reverse by hitting command-~. If you have a lot of apps open, it can sometimes be frustrating to have to run thru a sequence of a dozen apps before you get to the one you want. Command-tilde goes right to left instead, which can get you there a lot faster.”

You’re absolutely right, Josh. I should add that the command-~ convention works elsewhere on the Mac, like cycling through open windows in most programs. If you have a bunch of Safari windows open and don’t want to cycle through them all, you can use command-tilde to cycle backwards.

Paul, a subscriber in Serbia (!), wrote to remind me that you can use the mouse to point to the application you want to switch to in the Application Switcher:
“I enjoy using the application switcher very much. It is about the only Windoze utility that I am pleased to see reach the Mac platform. One thing I have discovered is you can “point” to any application in the pop-up bar using the cursor rather than rotating to it using the tab key.”

Thanks to Josh and Paul for writing. I love hearing from readers!

  SPECIALS | 06/23/09 - 06/30/09  
   Parallels Desktop for Mac 4.0 - Small Dog is donating $10 to the VT Food Bank for every copy sold!
   Xserve Quad-Core 2.8GHz 6GB RAM, 80GB drive module, Combo Drive, FREE Shipping!
   Mac Box Set (iWork '09, iLife '09, Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard) + 500GB Time Capsule, FREE Shipping!
   Save $100 on 500GB Apple Time Capsule (2008) - New low price plus FREE Shipping!
   Microsoft Office 2008 Special Media Edition Mac - Save $255, Plus free shipping!
   iPod nano w/video 16GB - Purple (4G), FREE Purple RapCap iPod microphone!
   Mac Pro Quad-Core 2.66GHz 8GB RAM, 640GB+1TB, GT120, 3-year AppleCare plan, Free Shipping!
   Connect Your Aluminum MacBook or MacBook Pro to An HDMI-equipped TV! Includes audio cable.