Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Bulk Out Your MacBook Air Storage Without Adding Bulk

The biggest problem with the MacBook Air is the fact that you have to make a commitment to your selected configuration the moment that you order it. Once you've chosen your memory and storage allocations at the time of purchase you are lumbered with them. Especially memory - so the best advice is to max out the memory up front. Although you can't increase the on-board SSD storage you do at least have some other options.

The easiest and most flexible way to add storage to a MacBook Air is plug in an external hard drive. USB 2, USB 3 and Thunderbolt drives are now available in all sorts of sizes and colours, not to mention weights, depending on whether you want portable or desktop models.

There is also an increasing number of wireless drives now hitting the market - generally in much smaller capacities than wired drives, but at least there's one less cable to have to think about.

USB flashdrives and SD cards provide yet another option, again generally in relatively low capacities, but these have the downside of sticking out of the laptop and taking up valuable ports.

Over the years I've tried just about everything. Different options for different scenarios, but I've long wanted a simple, cost effective and permanent solution to increase the maximum 256GB SSD drive space on my 13" 2011 MBA. And now I've found one!

The PNY 128GB StorEDGE Expansion Module (a 64GB version also exists) is specially designed for any MacBook that sports an SD slot. It is a bit smaller than a normal SD card and has a black plastic thumbnail grip to help push and pull it in and out of the machine. Once it is in the slot all that you can see is this 2-3mm edge, so the card is, to all intent and purpose, flush with the laptop. So it can stay there - pretty much permanently - without getting in the way of anything.

StorEDGE 128GB MacBook Expansion Card

Performance is not going to be as fast as other storage media, but I copied a 30Gb iTunes library from the MBA onto the StorEDGE in under 20 minutes. But if it's performance you're after you're missing the point - this is designed as a write rarely, read frequently device. It's ideal for iTunes, iPhotos, and other media files, work archives, and the like.

I couldn't find a UK supplier sadly. It's available from the US Amazon store but they won't ship to the UK. I got mine through eBay - where it cost $149 with $22 P&P. There was an additional $40 to cover import duty, so the total cost was about £130. Having placed the order on Sunday, it arrived 9 days later, much earlier than anticipated.

[UPDATE: I've since found a UK supplier, SCAN, who have the StorEDGE 128GB in stock. They charge £95.50 including next day delivery]

It is quite a lot of money to splash out - if you or someone you know is going to the US it would be worth getting one out there. However, this is a great solution for extending a MacBook without extra wires or another box to put in your laptop bag. And bear in mind that the price difference between a 13" MBA with 128GB of storage and one with 256GB of storage is £180.

Finally, please note that this is a dedicated expansion card, designed for MacBooks and it won't fit in your camera. Do not confuse this with cheaper and lower capacity SD cards which are also available from PNY and many other manufacturers.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Testing Times With Mavericks (OS X 10.9)

This is the first year that I've been officially part of the Apple Development Community, and as such the first time I've ever used a pre-release version of an Apple OS.

I loaded Mavericks onto my old MacBook Pro (mid 2007) when it was released as version 6, a couple of months ago. I was genuinely pleased that it loaded and ran on a relatively old machine. To be honest, I really don't use the MBP much these days, so it was a fairly safe bet, but because I don't use it that much, I wasn't really getting a good handle on of the Mavericks experience. But two things were for certain - the machine wasn't crashing and performance wasn't being stifled.
So I decided to repeat the exercise with my 2011 MacBook Air. By this time we were on version 8. Once again I had no problems with the installation or general performance. In fact, in many ways I couldn't really distinguish much difference over 10.8 Mountain Lion. With one major exception. Safari turned into a disaster zone and became virtually unusable. I'm not sure what caused the problems, and I wasn't going to hang around to find out. I restored Mountain Lion (luckily without any incident) and reconsidered the warnings about not using beta versions of an OS on a workhorse machine.
With the release of the GM version of Mavericks, I decided it was worth another go. The experience has been much less painful - but I do still have some quibbles with Safari, almost all of which are around the problem of not being able to click on links. Some of this is down to badly designed websites which are clearly only designed for IE, and maybe Firefox, but it still causes me some pain.
Some of my newly discovered toys don't work anymore but I'm not too surprised at that, as they almost all do some shenanigans with the core UI code. But some of them, such as Flavours, already have beta versions that will, and do, work under Mavericks. 1Password 4 is causing me some teething troubles - it installed OK but is prone to tantrums (it's having different tantrums under 10.8.5 so maybe Mavericks isn't the problem here). I find that occasionally some applications don't seem to want to load, no matter how many times I try. Terminal and Contacts are specific examples. But a reboot does seem to fix that - I'm thinking this issue maybe due to other beta software
I'm guessing that between now and some time in the next few weeks, before the offical public release, we'll be seeing a flurry of activity from developers and new releases of software will be a regular occurrence. And then the auto update feature in the Mac App Store will be a real blessing as it already has proved to be under iOS7.
Batttery life does seem to have improved considerably, so there is clearly a lot of stuff going on under the hood. My third party battery status software is showing that I've got 85% left on this charge and it's estimating that it's good for 5 more hours. Admittedly that's with most background apps switched off, but it's still much more than I'm used to.
For now, I'm happy to keep the GM release running on the MBA (although I think I'll keep the iMac on Moutain Lion). Which means I can start using some of the other features I've been reluctant to try, especially File Tagging. And if 1Password continues to misbehave I may even resort to KeyChain in the Cloud. We'll see. For me at least, there is every reason to take advantage of the full update when it is made available, especially at the price point widely expected to be around £20. Even if it is a whopping 5+ Gb of download!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Yes! You Can Change the Appearance of Mountain Lion's Dock

In my recent post about customising the appearance of Mountain Lion on the Mac (How Mountain Lion Changed Its Spots) I rued the demise of the ability to change the appearance of the Dock.

Ever since Mountain Lion was launched I've had the odd moment searching for a solution but all I've ever found were lots of people sharing my disappointment or references to Mirage. Mirage  is a one-trick pony which just makes the dock background vanish - which for me is preferable to the drab grey monstrosity that Apple's UI guys forced on us - but I still yearn for the days of rainbow docks or grassy verges or at least vibrant colours.

Last night I found the docking grail in the form of DockMod. It was written especially to provide all those things I just mentioned and does the job brilliantly and simply.

DockMod - the grail of dock tools!
DockMod comes from SpyreSoft and you can download a free trial (in fact you have to download it to be able to purchase it!). When you decide to purchase (there's no doubt you will) it comes in at $8.00 (about £5.00). The license is only valid on a single machine but you get three coupons to purchase additional copies with a $2.00 discount bringing the cost down to about £3.00 for other machines.

Currently the software doesn't work on the Mavericks developer edition but I hope that an upgrade will be forthcoming.

I love it and I'm sure you will too!

UPDATE - 2013-11-14 A beta version of DockMod is now available from the developer which does work under Mavericks, although as a beta there are some limitations. I have installed it and my dock looks beautiful again!