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#716: Entourage Follows The Rules, Hybrid Hard Drives: The Best of Both Worlds?, Back to My (Sleeping) Mac

 
     
 

Happy Tuesday,

After a long winter, it can be hard to believe that summer will ever come again. But once the farmers harvest the first round of hay, and the valley starts smelling of chlorophyll and lilac blossoms, we all breathe a sigh of relief that summer is really here. With the forecast calling for temperatures in the nineties and high humidity today, it’s a good thing we work a few hundred yards from an epic swimming hole. Owen and I are headed there shortly.

Later this week Small Dog will be at the Vermont Business and Industry Expo in Burlington. This year, our pavilion will include Canon, Belkin, Adobe, Netgear, 3M, Promise Technology, Apple, XtremeMac, LaCie, Pearson, VMware and Chill Pill Audio. We’re also one of three finalists for the Deane C. Davis award, the winner of which will be announced tomorrow morning as the expo gets underway. I hope you’ll swing by if you’re in the area.

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.

Matt
matt@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  Entourage Follows The Rules  
   
 

Last week, I headed out to collect inventory for a local business who recently enlisted the help of our consulting department. While I went around from machine to machine capturing System Profiler information, I also asked each user if he or she was experiencing any issues.

If the issues were reasonably simple, I attempted to fix them on the spot, while the bigger issues were to be explored during the inventory review. One user had an issue with her Entourage application that really piqued my interest.

For those who don’t know, Entourage is Microsoft’s equivalent of Outlook for the Mac, at least until “Outlook for Mac” comes out with the 2010 version of Microsoft Office being released later this year. The client I’m working for hosts her email services on an Exchange Server, and this particular user is used to getting her mail in her Exchange Inbox. However, since the previous Friday (about four days before my visit), she was receiving both incoming and sent mail into her local Inbox. Bizarre!

The user stated that she had not run any updates on her machine; she had no idea how the change occurred, though someone was “helping” her with her machine around the time the issue occurred. I verified, by sending myself an email from her account, that indeed, both the message she sent me and my reply to her appeared in her local inbox.

I checked the Exchange account directly through the company’s webmail and verified that the messages in the local inbox were not syncing with the Exchange server. Then, I verified she only had the one account set up in Entourage. This continued to be quite strange.

I started with some additional basic troubleshooting. First, I tried moving her Entourage preference file (/Users/youruser/Library/Preferences/com.microsoft.Entourage.plist) to the Desktop so that a new preference file would be created when the program was launched; this did not resolve her issue.

Next, after restoring the original preference file, I backed up and then rebuilt her database using the Microsoft Database Utility (/Applications/Microsoft Office 2008/Office/Microsoft Database Utility). When this failed, I deleted her Exchange account and re-added it; alas, this also did not resolve the issue either.

When the usual fixes didn’t work, I hit my favorite research tool: Google. I sifted through discussion boards with an appropriate amount of salt (let’s face it, for most of those discussion boards, one needs an entire salt shaker) and lo and behold I found several users reporting similar issues.

All signs pointed towards a corrupt or incorrect rule setup in Mailing List Manager. I headed to Entourage and then to Tools > Mailing List Manager, and sure enough, there was a rule set up in there. What made things hit a little close to home is that the rule was named “Small Dog.” OK, things just got weirder.

I opened up the “Small Dog” rule and it included a string that looked similar to a URL mixed with other random text. What was more interesting was finding what the rule did—it was set to put all incoming and sent messages in the local Inbox. Mystery solved!

I questioned the user about the rule and she admitted that she was attempting to unsubscribe from our Kibbles & Bytes newsletter on Friday (the day her issue occurred) but may have done it incorrectly. I deleted the rule and properly unsubscribed her from the newsletter by clicking the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of the email (I didn’t check to see if she was subscribed to Tech Tails!).

Voila! All incoming mail was going into the proper Exchange inbox (and syncing with the server) and all sent mail was back in the proper sent folder.

Once I was back at my desk, I did a little more digging to see if somehow we had a bad link in our HTML edition of the newsletter that could have somehow created a rule in Entourage. I clicked my little heart out and all of the links worked as expected.

After playing around a bit more, I found that if one marks an email as Junk in Entourage and then marks it as not junk a pop-up appears with three options. One of the options is to create a Mailing List Rule. Apparently, this user (or the person helping her) had chosen that option and attempted to set up a rule for the newsletter instead of just unsubscribing from it. Since the rule was set up incorrectly, it caused frustrating and bizarre issues for the user.

The moral of the story is that rules can be fickle things and it’s important to really think them through before setting them up. I remember the first time I ever created a rule years ago in Mail.app, one that sent a “vacation auto-reply” to people who wrote to me, it ended up automatically sending the message to everyone in my inbox, spamming years of contacts. D’oh! So, be careful with your rules and if something goes wonky right after setting up a rule, it’s best to delete it and start again. Good luck!

 
   
     
  Hybrid Hard Drives: The Best of Both Worlds?  
   
 

Seagate recently announced availability of its first hybrid hard drive.

According to Seagate, this hard drive is 100% faster than “conventional” 2.5-inch 5400 RPM hard drive, and 80% faster than a 7200RPM laptop drive. What makes this a hybrid drive is the 4GB of solid state storage on board. The drive is able to learn about frequently performed actions and move relevant files into the solid state portion of the device for quicker access.

With solid state drives still quite costly as compared to their more common predecessors, this new technology will make a highly cost-effective upgrade to any Intel-based portable Mac. You’ll notice vastly improved boot times, applications will launch more quickly, and you’ll notice that copying large numbers of small files will be faster than before.

I’m going to install one in my new unibody 17-inch MacBook Pro and will let you all know my findings in an upcoming Tech Tails.

 
   
     
  Back to My (Sleeping) Mac  
   
 

At a recent consult configuring MobileMe for a customer already using it on two other computers, I reminded her that the service is good for much more than just email.

MobileMe provides Mail, iCal, Address Book, preferences, dock, keychain and widget synchronization between multiple Macs, web page design and hosting, and plenty of other features. As we activated some of these features in the MobileMe Preferences pane, I mentioned that MobileMe also provides a way to remotely connect to your Mac for file- and screen-sharing: Back to My Mac.

I visualized a scenario in which she was traveling with her MacBook Pro and remotely needed to connect to her office iMac. She rightly asked, “What good is this feature if my iMac is asleep?” I didn’t know off the top of my head, so, like any resourceful computer operator, I went to Google. In seconds, we realized that we weren’t the only ones wondering—Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard introduced a feature called Wake on Demand, where you can connect remotely to a sleeping Mac to share files or control the screen.

A similar feature has been in available in Mac OS X for many years, but there wasn’t an elegant way to achieve this while not on your network. If you have Snow Leopard and an active MobileMe account, and you want to use these features, there are a couple places you’ll need to adjust settings.

In the Sharing preference pane, activate File Sharing if you want access to your files from another computer and Screen Sharing if you want to take control of the screen remotely. In MobileMe preferences, you will check the Back to My Mac tab, where you can start or stop access to your computer while away from your network.

Conveniently, this tab will tell you if you have the correct network setup to support these remote features. Some non-Apple routers, switches, and wireless access points do not have support for NAT Port Mapping Protocol (NAT-PMP) or Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), or they need to be configured specifically to support Back to My Mac.

However, all Apple wireless base stations—including Time Capsule—provide this support as long as they’re running firmware version 7.4.2 or newer and are properly configured.

Back to My Mac and Wake on Demand provide a great way to access your home or office computers when traveling even if your remote Mac is sleeping.

Full details from Apple are available here.
Purchase 1 year of MobileMe here.

 
   
     
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