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Here’s a little trick we’ve been using for a long time here at Playing With Wire. Virtual desktops. The idea with a virtual desktop is that it’s like having multiple monitors, except that you don’t have multiple monitors. Instead you have several ‘spaces’ or separate desktops and you can go to them very quickly.

The only way we can really explain how amazing this is is by video (Flash Required):

As you can see I went from checking out Playing With Wire in Safari, to iTunes and then back over Safari and on to to an entirely clean desktop where I could have launched the next program I needed.

Why is this useful? Well, imagine if you’re a person who likes to work in more than one application at the same time (lets face it, that’s pretty much everyone). Well before, you might have been forced to minimize your applications or leaf through them using Exposé in order to go from one to another. With virtual desktops each application can have its own space to live in, and you can get there in the blink of an eye.

Not only does this make us so much more productive, but it also garners plenty of ‘ohhs’ and ‘ahhs’ from our impressed friends. It’s just plain cool to spin to a different desktop as you work. On one desktop I’ll have Safari, perhaps composing my latest Playing With Wire post. On the other desktop I’ll have iTunes. When I want to switch to another track, I can go to the desktop with iTunes and I don’t even have to reach for my mouse. It’s computer wizardry at its best.

Where’s the magic?

A little app called Virtue Desktops. If you have a Mac without an enormous screen you need to have this software. It’s productivity and style in one.

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Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.

We have written about Parallels for Mac before. That time it was about Parallels addition of Boot Camp support and drag and drop between Windows and OS X. Since then, Parallels has been steadily improving on their software to make the best use possible of their head start against VMware. The kicker was going to be 3D support in their next release. But did they do to little too late?

Parallels have been saying for a while that they’re working on 3D acceleration. On their official blog in January Parallels said, “We’re still on track to add this in the next major upgrade version.” But if this was Parallels great advantage, there is bad news on the horizon: they’re not the only ones on track. Engadget recently reposted a YouTube video showing VMware run full speed 3D graphics on a Mac. If this is an indication of how VMware will run when it’s released on the Mac, Parallels might have some serious competition on their hands.

It’s hard to overstate how much Parallels has benefited from being first to market. They got some very healthy buzz. Now they’re prominently on sale in the Apple Store, and have even been mentioned in a footnote in one of the Apple advertisements. But fame or no fame, it is also true that Parallels has not always been doing a great job with the actual software. Parallels for Mac is frequently riddled with little quirks and bugs. When the software was first released, it routinely caused kernel panics, at least on my machine. At the time of this writing a search for “usb problem” on the Parallels forum turns up 391 results.

The truth of the matter is that there has always been a sense of lack of polish with the Parallels software. Consider the following message which is displayed when starting the latest beta. It has some fairly peculiar grammatical structure.

Parallels Message

In case you can’t read it, the message is “Parallels Tools initializing [sic] is in progress. Please do not turn off or reset the virtual machine, and do not perform any operations in the guest operating system until Parallels Tools initializing [sic] will be complete, because it may result in data loss.”

I’m not an English expert but this sure sounds rather awkward to me.

When VMware releases their product it is likely to have been both proofread and carefully debugged. It is likely that it will look and feel like any professional application you use. The only saving grace for Parallels then will be established market share, and any additional features they managed to finish in the time between their release and VMware’s release. If Parallels was banking on their 3D support, they’re heading out into deep water if the video demonstration above is genuine.

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Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.

Back in 2003 I bought my first Mac, a PowerBook G4. I’ve been very satisfied with the laptop, but it’s starting to get a bit old. Even though I don’t find an upgrade urgent since the computer still runs fine, it’s always nice to get some change once in a while. The only problem though is that I don’t find they new MacBooks improved enough for me to upgrade (sure, they’re faster, but that’s basically it).

In order for me to upgrade I’d need a better reason than just an increased CPU speed, because the speed of my laptop is currently not something that bothers me. However, there are some features that I miss on the MacBook.

Battery Life
Come on Apple, the battery life on the PowerBook and MacBook is pretty sad. When Sony can get their Vaios to run about 6-8 hours on the same CPU, I fail to see why this wouldn’t be possible on Apple’s laptops. Even the old Sonys (3 years old or so) has at least 4 hours of battery life.

I certainly see a big market for this. Sure, the Windows Tablets might not been as successful as the PC vendors hoped, but I believe in the idea. Right now I often end up taking notes on a plain sheet of paper, since certain type of data (graphs etc) is too time-consuming to record with only a keyboard and mouse.

There is certainly a demand for a Mac Tablet, since a company named Axiotron actually developed a modified MacBook (named ModBook), which was modified into a tablet. However, it would be nice if Apple could release this themselves.

Biometric reader
There are plenty of different standards available, but I guess finger-print is the more widely used technology. Wouldn’t it be convenient to log into the computer without having to type a long (secure) password every time? I don’t know how well the BSD-kernel supports these kind of devices, and how it would be solved, but I’d sure love that feature.

If Apple can implement these features in the next generation MacBook, I’d be the first one to sign up on the waiting list (assuming it’s not too much more expensive than the current MacBook).

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Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.

Many Mac owners are probably not aware that there is an excellent way to store passwords in OS X. In this how to guide, we will tell you everything about why you should use this feature, and how you can start taking advantage of it today.

We have written about how to secure your data with Apple OS X before. But what about your passwords? You could put them in an encrypted file, but there is a certain amount of effort involved with this. Every time you want a password you have to unlock your encrypted disk, and open some text file. Post-it With PasswordsChances are you will tire of that, and then you’d be back to writing your passwords on little post it notes. Or even worse: you’ll start choosing passwords that are easy to remember. This is one of the cardinal mistakes when trying to live securely. Memorized passwords are usually the worst passwords; simple, easy to guess and likely to be reused. How many people are reading your email right now because you choose your high school sweetheart’s name as your password?

There is a much better way to store passwords securely on the Mac: Keychain Access IconApple Keychain. The Keychain comes built in with your OS X operating system. If you are aware of it, you may think that its only function is to store your Safari and Apple Mail passwords. It can do much more than that.

Keychain encrypts all your passwords so that they can be stored securely, and yet the keychain is fast to use and organizes all your passwords to make them easy to find. Keychain is more secure than post-it notes, and much faster to access than a disorganized encrypted text file somewhere on your hard drive. Ultimately, Keychain can make your online experience much safer. You will be able to choose very tough passwords, and yet you will only need to memorize a single master password: your keychain password.

Here’s how to add any password for any account to your Keychain.

How to Add Any Password to the Keychain

  1. Open Apple Keychain. You can do this either by spotlighting for ‘keychain’, or by locating the ‘Access Keychain’ icon in your utilities folder.
  2. Selecting New Password Item… on the File menu.Hit Apple+N, or select ‘New Password Item’ from the File menu.
  3. Enter a good name for your password item. This will be the most important tag for finding your password item later, so make sure you pick something sensible. If the password is for a website, it’s often useful to put the address of the site in the name field.
  4. Enter your account name.
  5. Key Icon to Open the Generate Password SheetType in a password of your choice. You may click the key icon to the right of the Password field to open up Keychain’s built in password assistant.
  6. If you need a copy of your password immediately, select ‘Show Typing’ to reveal your password.

Yep, it’s that easy. Here’s an example:

Screenshot of the New Password Item sheet being filled out.

Now lets look at how to get the password back once you have stored it.

How to Get the Password You Need in Three Easy Steps

  1. Open Apple Keychain, by spotlighting for ‘keychain’ or by locating the ‘Access Keychain’ icon in your utilities folder.
  2. To search for a key, enter the Keychain Item Name or the Account name in the search box in the upper right corner of the program. When you can see your password in the list, just double click it.
  3. To see your password, check ‘Show Password.’ You will be asked for your keychain password. Unless you changed this master password, it will be the same as your login password.

Here’s the password we stored in our example:

Keychain displaying a stored password.

If you want to be able to access your passwords even faster, you can go into Keychain’s Preferences and check ‘Show Status in Menu Bar’. This adds a padlock in the Menu Bar. Clicking on the padlock reveals a menu that does not only allow you to reveal your keychain quickly, but also gives you a convenient ‘lock screen’ feature.

As you can see, getting to any one password is easy with Keychain. And even then, the passwords are protected and require your master password for display. You can have a unique password for every website you visit if you so wish, safe in the knowledge that if a password does come out, your other online activity will be unaffected.

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Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.
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A little announcement just dropped into my mailbox: Apple Shuffles in Grey, Pink, Green, Blue and Orange.
Apple’s cute iPod shuffle now comes in multiple colors. Five different colors in fact: standard grey, pink, green, blue and orange.

You have to hand it to them: Apple knows how to do business. There is probably little doubt that they could have made these colorful little things from the start. The new Shuffle has been on sale for a while, but as opposed to the Nano, it only came in brushed metal grey. Then Apple happily sold that for a while, especially during the Christmas rush.

Then as soon as the novelty of the positively tiny shuffle was past, they made a new announcement. Brilliant colors!

Here’s the page on Apple’s site.

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