Collaboration Applications - What Have I Used?

I have used a number of applications for collaboration within my firm eSolia and with clients over the last number of years, and I thought I would share the experiences I have had with you.

Groove - we used this before and after it was acquired by Microsoft, and it was promising. We stopped using it because of the lack of searchability and the fact that it was a memory hog. A real catch-22: the more you get into it, the slower it got and the more the lack of search became problematic. Further, when everything went into Groove, if a person left the team, they might also take a part of a project with them, if you were not careful. We got around this by always joining a phantom member to the projects, and the member was just logged into a PC on our network. It had everything in it.

Mantis - we tried to modify this famous bug-tracker for use as a ticketing system for IT support, but this was a stretch without a full time programmer / sysadmin to maintain it. We used it for a while and it just did not cut it, for us. Granted, we were using it outside its scope.

Sharepoint - like many things Microsoft, this file-centric document sharing application can do a lot, especially if you license various plugins to use on top of it like a Project server. However, even with various “add ins”, it still had to be programmed to make it do some pretty basic things. Long term we were not impressed, and felt open-source solutions were much better “out of the box”.

Trackstudio - this troubleticketing and bug tracking program is a very interesting and cost-effective program, but there were security problems with a couple upgrades a few years ago. Just to ensure client information security, we had to abandon forthright after the problems upgrading, but I want to emphasize that our decision was not based on Trackstudio’s people or support, because the support was exemplary; shockingly good.

Atlassian Confluence and Jira - this combo of a wiki and ticketing system is superior, but there were too many things that were “just not quite enterprise.” Further, Atlassian had an odd approach to fixing problems, in that they wanted people to “vote” for what they want, and only if the feature got enough votes would it get implemented. Hence, some really important features in the area of security and ease-of-administration were simply left off. My staff liked Confluence but disliked Jira, in terms of usability for our IT Support business in Tokyo, but ultimately we abandoned it.

What’s in our Current Stable of Apps

We currently use a number of great applications.

Salesforce.com “email2case” - since we use SFDC for CRM anyway, when we heard about email2case, we did a pilot of it, and found it easy to set up and use. Email2case is a Java jar app that you run on a server, and it polls an IMAP mailbox per customer, putting any mail that comes into the box into a case for the company in SFDC, and assigning a ticket number. Sales staff can see tickets as “Cases” under the customer account. Very easy to keep up with what’s going on, support wise.

Mindtouch “Deki Wiki” - this is the best wiki, as far as we are concerned. Very easy to set up either directly on your server or as a virtual server, has S3 support for attachments, is mashable with a huge number of widgets or gadgets, and has great wysiwyg editing that makes adoption easy.

Google Docs - For some situations, it is great to be able to collaborate on docs while you are creating them, real time. Need to keep abreast of what Google is doing anyway, in case it takes over the world (only half joking).

Replicon WebTimesheet or Harvest - these are time and expense tracking applications. WebTimesheet is a little more seasoned, but I expect Harvest will catch up. We can enter Japanese in WTS, but not in Harvest. Implementing WTS allowed us to save weeks of person-time every month collating time and expense spreadsheets.

Others - sometimes, 37Signals Basecamp, or task list apps like “Remember the Milk” and Toodledo.

I hope this list helps someone get started with collaboration. Enjoy!

URL for MobileMe iDisk Public Folder

MobileMe iDisk users can share files Publicly, but it’s less than obvious how to do it. Further, the whole MobileMe experience is still a bit buggy as well, in my experience.

Continue →

Migrating OS X Leopard to a New “Unibody” Macbook Pro (Late 2008 Model)

I got a new “unibody” MacBook Pro, since my 1st generation MBP was on its last legs with breaking display, SuperDrive, fans, after 24x7 service for nearly three years. I’ll have to get Apple to look at the old one since there is still warranty left. It was quite a process to migrate from the old MBP to the new MBP, so I thought I would write a log of what I did and how I got it working.

Migrating OS X Leopard to New Hardware

I managed to unbox the new MBP without taking a lot of pictures of its unboxing. Sorry. In and out of the box it is absolutely gorgeous. The glossy display is going to be a bit of a problem outside, though. Anyway, it’s one of the nicest-designed devices I have seen in a long time.

Next I plugged the new MBP in and started it up. The multilingual “Welcome” video is always cool, and after that I made some of the basic settings. Remember, the first account you make should be something generic like Administrator. You can always make another account to use for yourself, later.

Migration Assistant (Mis)Adventures

The new MBP asked if I have a Mac, and so I said yes and tried using Migration Assistant. If you have done a little research on migrating OS X from machine to machine, you’ll probably know about Apple’s “Migration Assistant”. Migration Assistant assumes:

Your old machine has a working CD/DVD SuperDrive, because you have to install software for Migration Assistant to use to connect.

You can connect to the other machine over your Wireless or Wired network.

Well, unfortunately my old MBP’s SuperDrive was not working, and I could not get Migration Assistant to work. After a few tries with MA over wired and wireless networks, I gave up and decided to go manual. The short story is, yes, you need to do the “CD/DVD Sharing” install it is requesting!

In the end I backed out of MA, set up the basics and set up my own rcogley account. I took care to make sure the hard drive was named the same thing as my old hard drive (Macintosh HD), and that my account’s shortname was the same as the old one (rcogley). This way, the paths are the same from old to new, and applications that are sensitive to path, will not choke when you migrate them.

MobileMe Saves the Day

Luckily I was using MobileMe on my old MBP, so everything was backed up there. I set up MobileMe in System Preferences, entering my name rick.cogley@me.com and password. MobileMe proceeded to sync everything down to the new MBP, which worked quite well. That said, there was a lot of touch and go with MobileMe after some time, because I also had it syncing on the old MBP at the same time.

I observed:

Dock items which are there by default were moved to my old MBP.

There was a question mark icon in place of my “Reveal in Path Finder” button, in Finder, since I had not yet installed Path Finder.

After the MobileMe sync, Mail accounts, iCal accounts, Safari bookmarks, Keychain logins etc “just worked”, which was nice, but, some detailed settings like whether to store Sent Mail on the IMAP server, or not, got changed.

Next time, I think the best practice would be to turn off MobileMe sync on the old MBP, then sync the new MBP with the data up on the MobileMe service.

Software Update

Before getting on with moving files, I used Software Update to update to the latest Leopard OS X and other support software. Notably, the install was very smooth and fast, unlike what often happens on a well-used OS X system. I was having to use the combo updaters from Apple, because Software Update was simply not working well on my old MBP. It was nice to see it “just work”.

Migrate Simple Files

Once the basics were done I concentrated on moving simple files and folders. I copied my old account’s Documents, Pictures and Movies folders. This was many gigs of files, so I just let it go over night. When it was finished, I checked to see if everything was accessible, and it was. No problems so far.

Migrate Mail

Mail.app got its basic setup information via MobileMe, but there was one thing I had locally and not up on the server - Sent Mail. My “Sent Mail” was present only on the local hard drive, so I had to find it and migrate it. Mail.app stores local mail as a numbered file with “.EMLX” extension. Previously, you could not import .EMLX files into Mail.app, so you had to use a utility to convert them to mbox and import them. However, Mail.app in Leopard has a setting in File, Import Mailboxes, to import “Mail for Mac OS X” files, which is what you need to import .EMLX files.

My local sent mail was located in:

/Users/rcogley/Library/Mail/Mailboxes/Sent Messages (Gmail IMAP).mbox/Messages

I copied the Messages folder over to my new MBP, and then used File, Import Mailboxes, Mail for Mac OS X to import the folder into Mail.app on the new MBP. It imports into a folder under “Imports” in Mail.app, and you can then copy the messages where you like.

The rest of the mail was being downloaded from my IMAP accounts, and since I had my accounts set to not download attachments, this did not take so long.

Migrate Flock

I installed Flock by downloading and installing its dmg file in the usual way. To migrate settings from the old MBP to the new, I shut Flock down on both sides, and then copied:

~/Library/Application Support/Flock/Profiles

~/Library/Application Support/Flock/Profiles.ini

… to the same place on the new MBP, where the ~ of course indicates your user folder (mine is /Users/rcogley). Restarting Flock on the new MBP, I noticed Flock works fine and even picks up my last-used tabs and bookmarks.

Show Hidden Files in Finder, Too

I had forgot about hidden files in my user folder, so I ran the “defaults” Terminal command to show them:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE

Migrate Settings Files

Now that hidden files were visible in Finder, I started migrating various settings files, carefully, by hand.

Apps I will migrate or use, here:

~/Library/Application Support

Selected preference files:

/Library/Preferences

~/Library/Preferences

Fonts:

/Library/Fonts

PDF Services I had customized in Automator, and various other folders in my Library folder:

““

~/Library/Scripts

~/Library/Widgets

~/Library/FontCollections

~/Library/Favorites

~/Library/Saved Searches

~/Library/Dictionaries

~/Library/Internet Plug-Ins

~/Library/Input Methods

~/Library/iMovie

~/Library/Fonts

~/Library/Compositions

~/Library/iTunes

~/Library/Lockdown

~/Library/PDF Services

~/Library/Recent Servers

~/Library/ImageWell3

~/Library/Snapz Pro X

~/Library/Workflows

Be conservative on this step, and go one by one. This took the longest, because I did not want to make a mistake, but at the same time did not want to reconfigure every app I use, either.

Reinstall or Migrate Applications

Next, Istarted migrating applications and reinstalling in some cases. You can migrate many, if not a majority, of Mac applications from one machine to the other by copying their .app file. As long as you have their “plist” preference files and support files, you are good to go.

As for reinstalling, I made these decisions to reinstall the following:

EMobile wireless dialup modem, and update the software to the latest one.

Any needed printer drivers, to avoid the detritus that they often install, and to get rid of a lot of unneeded printers from 3 years of heavy, chaotic use.

Apple professional applications like Aperture and Final Cut.

Microsoft Office 2008.

Adobe CS3.

Preference pane software such as Growl, Flip4Mac or Plaxo. (After I downloaded these, I found that they are located in /Library/Preference Panes, and you just double click to reinstall.

Everything else, I migrated. Most apps were well-behaved on the new system, and picked up their settings and preferences without a problem. I had to reinstall Nikon software because it would not start after having been dragged and dropped across.

In Conclusion

There are probably many ways to do this, and, it might be quite a bit easier to just have Migration Assistant do the work for you, but again that assumes you have a working SuperDrive on the old machine. The benefit to doing things selectively like I did here is that you have a fresh OS underneath, and can get rid of a lot of baggage from years of upgrading.

As always, I hope someone benefits from this experience. Please contact me directly, make a comment, but most of all Enjoy!.

Enabling the Script Menu in OS X Leopard

I use scripts such as Andreas Amann’s excellent Mail Scripts, and to allow easy access to those, I wanted to enable the scripts menu in the menubar in OS X Leopard. I had done it before but promptly forgot how to do it. Here’s how.

Enabling OS X Menubar Icons

All you have to do is visit:

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras

… and double click the appropriate menu file. The scripts menu is governed by “Script Menu.menu”. The other icon options are as follows:

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/Bluetooth.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/TimeMachine.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/Verizon.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/IrDA.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/WWAN.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/Battery.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/AirPort.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/iChat.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/Volume.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/UniversalAccess.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/PPPoE.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/PPP.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/VPN.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/RemoteDesktop.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/Fax.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/Sync.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/Spaces.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/User.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/PCCard.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/Eject.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/HomeSync.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/Script Menu.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/Ink.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/TextInput.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/Displays.menu

/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/Clock.menu

Just in case you wanted to reduce your menubar real estate.

Enjoy!

Excellent Hosting Services - LittleOak, Linode and OpenHosting

I have had a good experience with the following three excellent hosting services, all with different approaches yet outstanding performance and customer service:

Little Oak

Linode

OpenHosting

In this article I’ll say a couple words about my selections for superior hosting services (all LAMP platform), which include both the shared, and virtual private server types of hosting. They are all three different, but each has been very solid and recommendable with exemplary customer service and commendable uptime. I’ll also mention some ways to supplement your hosting, helping you to save on bandwidth and cost.

My Shared and VPS Hosting Choices

Here are my choices for three outstanding hosting providers that I have had direct experience with:

Little Oak is a “shared” hosting service, where you sign up and are provided with a “dashboard” with which to manage your site. Log in to the dashboard, and you can install and upgrade popular applications directly, such as Wordpress, Drupal or Moodle. With shared hosting, your hosting provider maintains the servers, and you just worry about uploading files for your Website, clicking a button to back up, tweaking settings in your various web apps’ admin panels, or clicking “upgrade” to upgrade a web app in the dashboard. Shared hosting is generally easy to use (Little Oak’s is especially so), with the tradeoff that you lose a bit of control. At Little Oak, payment is monthly or discounted annually for a given set of memory, disk and bandwidth parameters. Little Oak hosting has been rock-solid with high performance, and they respond quickly and in a friendly manner (even offering to go the extra mile to help), to questions through a dedicated help ticketing system.

Linode is a Virtual Private Server “VPS” hosting service, where you choose what Linux distribution to install, like Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS and so on, and you get the “keys to the kingdom” (er, root access) on a virtual server running with other VPSs on a host that the provider maintains. VPS providers are as a rule hands-off in terms of managing your systems so you have to handle all the settings, backups and migrations. Some VPS providers offer value-added services like backups or other managed services. The advantage over a shared service is that you have control, but you’re not going to get the friendly hand-holding that you would get with Little Oak. Linode has an excellent, easy-to-use dashboard system for managing your VPSs, where you can create disk images within your disk space, and load different OSs on your IP address for testing. This is a dream feature. Payment at Linode is monthly or discounted annually for a given set of memory, disk and bandwidth parameters. Linode hosting has been absolutely solid, performance high, and they respond quickly to questions.

OpenHosting is another superior VPS service I use, with a different approach. Instead of billing a fixed amount monthly or annually, they have what they call “utility pricing” which is a form of metered billing. You commit to a certain minimum amount per month for a set of parameters, but the system tracks what you use in terms of CPU, memory and network bandwidth, and can “flex up” to a larger profile. OpenHosting has the same advantage of control, and they use the well-regarded 64-bit ”VServer” with the Cent OS distribution. They have an excellent built-in services of four disk image backups per day (via rsync) so that you can restore your system in case of disaster. Unlike with Linode, you do not get a choice of OS, so if you just need stability and the metered billing and are ok with Cent OS, then OpenHosting is your platform. OpenHosting hosting has been perfectly solid, high-performing, and they have a special “911” support feature for extra fast support.

Hosting Supplements

When you use a hosting service you are buying into certain parameters regarding performance and bandwidth. Say your blog gets popular or is “slashdotted”. This can easily eat your bandwidth up, especially if you host a lot of media files which are inherently larger than just text. This is nothing new, but you can supplement your hosting by using free or paid services to offset your bandwidth or performance costs. For example:

Amazon S3 - you pay a small amount for space and bandwidth, and can take advantage of Amazon’s huge technical infrastructure to host media files. Amazon S3 is not just for backup, but you can host files from it, and map a DNS “CNAME” pointer to it (that is, give a certain folder a direct URL). I use S3 to host large video files.

Flickr - Yahoo’s photo hosting and social networking service allows you to link to photos you post, so long as you follow certain rules about how you link. I use Flickr to host all my photos, and use MarsEdit to link to them in this blog.

Google Services - Google has many services, and you can take advantage of some of these to host content. Youtube comes to mind, for hosting versions of your video content.

There are a lot of ways to offset your main hosting bandwidth costs, not just the three above.

Making a Hosting Decision

Why would you go with any one of these services? Well, if you don’t know why you’d need root access, then the simple answer is go with Little Oak shared hosting. Don’t believe the hype of providers saying they have “unlimited” bandwidth or disk space - that’s just a pipe dream (really: no free lunches, ok?). I use Little Oak for my basic sites because I don’t need to run Plone or other complex systems that demand root access and a lot of care and feeding. I can also set up a demo web app in 5 minutes via the dashboard. But when I do need to run something with custom parameters or special compiled settings, Linode or OpenHosting it is.

Why would you choose a given VPS then? As above, Open Hosting’s utility pricing and regular backups are something special but there are cases where you need to pick an OS. For instance, it is much easier to run Deki Wiki from Mindtouch on Debian or Ubuntu, than it is to run it on Cent OS. The assumptions the developers made when building that system were that certain packages are available. They are available, easily, if you use Debian, but on Cent OS, it’s like an assault on K2 and I hope you love that compiler.

I hope this article helps someone decide on hosting. Please give me some feedback directly or in the comments! I hope to hear from you and Enjoy!

Great Twitter Client for iPhone - Tweetie

After getting an iPhone, I started looking around for the best Twitter client for the iPhone. There are many, many Twitter clients, attesting to the service’s huge popularity. I tried Twitterfon and NatsuLion, both of which are good, but I like the feature-set and general snappiness of Tweetie from AteBits (8 bits in a b[i|y]te, get it?!). Tweetie’s full set of features, from their website:

Handle multiple twitter accounts.

View your timeline, replies, direct messages and favorites.

Browse your friends and followers.

Post new tweets, retweet

Reply directly to tweets and send direct messages.

Follow and unfollow people.

Mark tweets as favorites.

Navigate reply chains.

Inline web browser.

Post links with automatic link shrinking via bit.ly.

Upload pictures to twitpic.com.

Update your twitter location.

View twitter trends and perform custom searches.

Save your favorite searches.

Implements the full twitter API.

Uses secure connection (https).

New: Go to User shortcut

New: Nearby search

New: Themes and adjustable font size

New: Bookmarklet support

Twittelator also looks pretty awesome, and I might try that after a while, too.

Screenshots to Flickr

My friend Craig asked how I go about posting screenshots to Flickr (since there’s so many ways to go about it) so I thought I’d do a post on the topic. The quick answer is it depends upon the platform you are using, to grab the screen and then manipulate it, but let me go into a little more detail.

Creating the Screenshot

If you are on a Mac, your platform has a built in screen grabber called, creatively enough, “Grab”. Start it by searching for it in Spotlight, highlighting it, and pressing enter. The default location for screenshots Grab makes is your desktop. This can be changed with some fancy Terminal footwork.

More advanced Mac alternatives are available, such as what I use, Ambrosia Software’s “Snapz Pro X”, or RealMac’s beta “Little Snapper”. Snapz lets you choose various parts of the screen and has ways to customize what the image looks like, where it is saved, and what to do with it, like sending it via email.

If you are on a PC, by default you can press Print Screen, then paste the resulting BMP on the clipboard into a graphics app. Paint Brush works fine, but the graphics from Print Screen are BMP format and therefore fairly large. My favorite screendump app for the PC is TechSmith’s SnagIt. This is one of the most versatile screendump programs out there. You can even grab menu text.

If you are using the iPhone, you can press the Home and Lock keys simultaneously, which will put a screenshot of whatever you are looking at, into your Camera Roll.

Getting it to Flickr

Once you have the file, there are many ways to post it on Flickr. I choose email because it is so easy to do. I set my Snapz to output to an attachment in email, then fill in the Subject line (the title of the photo) and the Body of the mail (the description of the photo). I add some tags typing in “tags: tag1 tag2” and so forth, after my body text. Flickr prepares a special email address for you for posting, which I address the email to. As for Windows, you can do the same setup with Snagit, as well, and, you can use ShoZu to post to Flickr from your iPhone photos.

When the picture file arrives at Flickr, the mail Subject goes into the Title, the mail Body into the Description, and the tags into the respective tag location. I do a little bit of post-processing up on Flickr, marking the screenshot as a screenshot (defaults to photo), editing tags or adding to sets and groups.

Workflow Summary

For a summary, here’s what I do start to finish:

Arrange my screen so I have a shot ready to be taken to better illustrate some concept.

Press Cmd-Shift-3 to bring up Snapz Pro X. Select the region or window with Email selected for output.

Enter Subject, Body and Tags in mail when it appears, then send mail.

Confirm mail made it up to Flickr, and tidy up the photo’s settings.

In the end, it’s very easy to do.

iPhone Tap Tips

After (finally!) getting a new iPhone and contract from Softbank here in Japan, just like I did with Mac Keyboard Shortcuts, I struggled a bit with the “tap sequences” one needs to learn to be able to input text or navigate efficiently in this superior smartphone.

How to Manipulate the iPhone with Taps and Button Presses

For convenience, I compiled a list of iPhone “Tap Tips”, or shortcuts for tapping and pressing the buttons and interface of the iPhone, which I hope will be useful to iPhone users.

For instance, do you know what these sequences do?

Triple-click the mic clicker.

Double-press the home button.

Double-tap space when entering text.

If not, take a peek at my ”iPhone Tap Tips” list for the answers and more, and most of all, Enjoy!

Kodomo Hyakutouban No Ie - “Kids’ Emergency House”

Neighborhoods in Japan have people join the "Kids' Emergency House"
network, and affix these signs to their gates. If a child is in
trouble, they are taught in school that they can go to a house
designated this way, for help.

Google Labs Adds Task List to GMail

Wow, Google Labs just keeps adding and adding functionality to the Google stable of apps. Now you can have a task list in your GMail or Google Apps Premier Mail, made from the incoming mails you indicate.

How to Enable Your GMail Task List

You can enable the GMail or “GAPE” Mail Task List by visiting the Google Labs tab in your GMail settings, and enabling Tasks.

  1. Enable your Labs Tab if you have not already.
  2. Visit the Labs tab and Enable Tasks, per the screenshot in this article.

That’s it. You can now check-select any mail item, choose Actions, and convert the mail into a Task. The Task list is accessible by the keyboard shortcut “gk”.

The GMail task list is not uber-sophisticated, but it is functional. If you don’t use something like OmniFocus, this might be your tool. Enjoy!