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#786: Lion Mail, Lion Security Flaw, Less Can Be More


Happy Tuesday,

The leaves are changing quickly here in Vermont. Just last week there was little color to be seen in central Vermont, except for higher elevations, but by the end of the weekend fiery oranges and reds could be seen everywhere. It’s a wonderful time of year to visit Vermont, and our brave little state could sure use the commerce after the calamitous flooding late last month.

Most of our roads and bridges are open again, so unfettered travel is possible through 99% of the state. Now and again we see customers take detours from planned routes to visit our stores in their travels. Just the other day a customer from Ohio stopped by the Waitsfield store, asking to speak with me—he’d been a Tech Tails reader for more than ten years. It takes a special kind of company and a special kind of customer for that interaction to happen, and it’s heartwarming to be a part of it.

We have two new additions to our technical services team. Lance Putnam and Michael Burl are getting up to speed in our South Burlington facility, and I know they’ll both bloom into highly productive members of the team. Come by and say hi!

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


  Lion Mail  

I upgraded my workstation Friday night to Lion, and have been living with it since then. Up until now, I’d only just played around on showroom computers and clicked around while resolving customers’ issues in the tech room. Since I transitioned to it on my own computer, I’ve had some trouble getting used to the new interface and gestures.

I’m still not completely up to speed with all the new features, and some of the new gestures have me somewhat stumped. For example, in Mail under previous versions of MacOS X, one could two-finger swipe to go from one mail message to the next. This same gesturing would allow you to swipe between conversations in iChat. Now, that two finger swipe defaults to moving between spaces. I haven’t taken the time quite yet to investigate how to change these things to better suit me, but I’m sure the options exist. That’s an article for next week.

The two finger swipe still allows you to go back and forward in Safari, which is tremendously useful; in fact, the animation under Lion as you go back and forward is very slick, and webpages back and forward appear almost instantly under Lion. It’s much better than in previous versions.

A specific problem I’ve had in Mail is the new layout. It doesn’t suit me just yet, and perhaps next weekend, when I don’t need to be working at my most efficient, I’ll give it another try. But poking around in the Mail preferences, under Viewing, I located a checkbox to go back to Classic view. Once I clicked that, I was presented with my old friend. You can revert to Classic view by navigating to Mail > Preferences > Viewing > Classic Layout.

What are your favorite new features in Lion?

  Lion Security Flaw  

A flaw was recently discovered in OS X Lion that allows any user on the Mac to extract a file containing an administrative user’s password. As with past versions of OS X, user passwords are encrypted and stored securely as “shadow files” within the computer’s hard drive. Those files can then only be accessed by that specific user, or administrators, with proper authentication. The flaw with this procedure in Lion is that these files can be accessed by any user on the Mac. So, a Standard or heavily restricted user could potentially obtain an encrypted file containing an Administrator’s password from which the password can be extracted.

The necessity of local access is what restricts this issue the most. The hacker would need to have physical access to your machine. Hopefully this goes without saying, but allowing a potentially dishonest person unsupervised physical access to your machine is never a good idea. Properly securing your Mac by turning off Automatic Login, using strong passwords (letters, numbers, and characters) and even requiring a password immediately after your system has it’s screen saver going, which can be done in the Security Preference pane, are some simple yet substantial security measures.

It is also possible for the hacker to remotely log into the Mac and grab these password files, but this would require conscious configuration on the Mac owner’s part, as well as the hacker’s knowledge of a valid username and password.

I’m confident that Apple will release a Lion Software Update soon enough to correct this issue. In the meantime, however, it is a good idea to utilize the aforementioned security steps, and always keep in mind: there’s no security like physical security.

  Less Can Be More  

Apple’s Migration Assistant is a great way to transfer your files from one Mac to another. It (usually) is able to seamlessly move your programs, documents and settings over with a minimum of fuss, relying either on FireWire, USB, Ethernet or AirPort. For some of us, though—particularly those of us who upgrade all the time—we might find ourselves having issues that get worse with each transfer.

This is particularly true with non-Apple programs. The iApps like iPhoto, iMovie, etc. tend to transfer over just fine. But others, like Microsoft Office and various other third-party applications, simply do not like being transferred with the assistant.

Perhaps you’re someone who is always looking for the latest software gizmo, downloading apps small and large from the Internet and the App Store. Odds are you’ve used very few of these apps past the evaluation period; if they’re free apps, odds are you haven’t opened them in a long time.

In today’s world, where your new Mac will come with at least a 320-gigabyte hard drive and up to 8 terabytes built-in, it’s not strictly necessary to conserve disk space. But, wouldn’t it be nice to open your Applications folder on a brand new computer and not be reminded of your old computer? Why wait longer for the window to open and the icons to draw, when you can simply elect to not transfer your applications when you use the Migration Assistant?

When I get my next computer, I won’t be migrating my programs. Instead, I’m going to install the applications I need, and only when I find myself needing them. Really, I don’t need a menu bar item telling me the temperature of a fan sensor, the half-dozen alarm clock apps I didn’t like don’t need to be there, and who uses Microsoft Messenger anyway?

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