News

The Problem with iCloud

As a huge fan of most things Mac, it’s not easy for me to be less than enthusiastic about the transformation of MobileMe into iCloud. Some users have paid for MobileMe for years, without really understanding what it is, or taking advantage of all the features it offered. Now that MobileMe is on its way out, and Apple is sending dire warnings that MobileMe users better switch to iCloud or else, there is anxiety. What is Mobile Me? What is iCloud? What do we do?

First, let’s start with MobileMe. MobileMe evolved out of iTools, then Dot Mac years ago, and offered not only the .mac domain for email addresses, but also iDisk, MobileMe Galleries, Find My iPhone, contact, calendar and bookmark synchronization across devices and computers, and storage space for iWeb. iWeb was the easy to use website creation tool. MobileMe was an annual subscription service that ran $99 per year. For many it was a great deal, allowing mere mortals with no programming skills whatsoever put together and maintain elaborate websites. Apparently, Steve Jobs reportedly was not a fan of what MobileMe had become.

For one thing, synching via Dot Mac, later MobileMe, was anything but reliable. Users were constantly wiping out their data, losing their calendars and contacts, and generally getting themselves into trouble with the whole, complicated sync process. The idea was that MobileMe would be the digital hub for your content, tying together your music, photos, contacts, calendar and bookmarks. But the reality was less than elegant. After several unhappy starts and changes (the switch from Dot Mac to MobileMe was especially painful, and led to loss of service, loss of email and loss of the upper level of management in that division), it seemed that MobileMe was finally coming into its own. Probably one of the most popular, and useful features was Mobile Me Galleries. With a mere click or two, a user was able to post Photo albums online, in a private, password-protected account. Friends and family could then view these galleries online, and even download images they liked as full-quality digital copies, if the owner chose to allow it. It was wonderful.

iWeb was another great feature that many users mourn the loss of. But it’s not really disappearing, per se. It just won’t be a part of iCloud. With a few adjustments, determined users will still be able to use the iWeb program (at least for awhile) to create sites and host them somewhere else using FTP. iWeb 3 made it possible to publish websites on traditional web hosts. Keep in mind, however, that future upgrades of the OS on your Mac may render iWeb inoperable. We would suggest biting the bullet and converting sites to WordPress, the new standard for website templates. iWeb’s days are numbered. In the short term though, you can at least move and keep your iWeb sites alive a bit longer while you rework them.

So what will happen when Mobile Me goes away? If you don’t migrate to iCloud by June 30th, 2012, your Mobile Me stuff will basically cease to exist. The Galleries on MobileMe will disappear, and websites hosted with iWeb (on Apple servers), will also go off-line. Many folks have been ignoring the call to make the switch. And Apple has clearly decided to turn up the heat by launching an aggressive email campaign, warning all MobileMe users that they need to switch to iCloud sooner than later.

Now that we remember what MobileMe was, what’s with iCloud? Apple describes it in great detail on their website. For our purposes, let’s just review what it means to make the switch. To realize the full potential of iCloud, you’re going to need an upgrade to Lion (OS 10.7.x). This is no small feat if you happen to have an older Mac, since Lion can only be installed on Intel machines with dual cores, and not G5s or older Macs. The highest you can upgrade a G5, for example, is 10.5.8. A client mused recently that Apple will soon be mired in class-action lawsuits over this switch. Not so fast. That small print we all click on allows them to make whatever changes they deem appropriate, and discontinue any service after giving us reasonable notice. Apple announced the introduction of iCloud, and the termination of MobileMe, over a year ago. They then extended all subscriptions to June of 2012, allowing ample time for users of MobileMe to prepare for alternative services, or the upgrade to iCloud (and Lion). If you don’t like it, there are alternatives to do not require an upgrade.

If you’ve been using MobileMe galleries, you’ll have to find somewhere else online to share your pictures. What I’ve seen of SmugMug, recommended as an option by David Pogue, looks promising. If you have a website created in iWeb, you’ll have to move it to a hosting company other than Apple, or convert it to something like WordPress (while still hosting it somewhere else). If you plan on ignoring iCloud altogether, you can use other calendar programs, like Google Calendar, to keep track of your appointments. The same holds true for your contacts, if you need them to sync across all your devices.

And finally, idisk will go the way of the dinosaur. In it’s place, you might consider Dropbox.com. The iphone/ipad dropbox app is free, as are the first 2 gigs of storage.

The good news is that those of us who have a .mac or .me email address, and move it to iCloud, won’t lose it. We’ll be able to continue using it, for free. What you won’t be able to do is create new .mac email addresses or address aliases. But that hasn’t been an option for quite some time. Membership to dot mac closed when MobileMe was introduced, and .me took its place.

Rather than go into what iCloud offers here, I suggest you stay tuned. This week Apple will be announcing an expansion of the iOS, as well as a new line up of hardware, and possibly a fine tuning of what iCloud is to be. Once that information is available, they’ll be a follow-up article. For now, move that dot mac or dot me email address before the 30th, or you’ll lose it. And remember, the most important thing you can do for your Mac today is backup your data.

iPhone: Verizon vs. AT&T

The “new” iPhone 4 for Verizon is finally here. So do we jump on the bandwagon and abandon AT&T? Not so fast. For those of us with AT&T iPhones, there are several things to consider. For current Verizon customers, the following article won’t apply. They have already ordered their iPhones. First, let’s outline the key differences between the two services.

AT&T uses the GSM network. What this means is that you can use the iPhone in the States, and in Europe. This is no small matter for folks who travel for business and pleasure. The Verizon iPhone is outfitted with the CDMA chip, which means it will not work in most parts of Europe. Because of the CDMA technology, (which has been around for quite awhile and will soon be obsolete, by the way), one cannot make a call and surf the web on the phone at the same time.

Why would surfing the web be necessary during a call, you ask? Consider looking up a webpage of a restaurant, or a map for directions, while you’re on the phone. Or perhaps you’re waiting for an important email, but are on hold with someone for 30 minutes. Also, certain apps may depend on internet connectivity to function. According to Verizon, this “feature” accounts for the call reliability. Less calls are dropped. If you place a call on the Verizon iPhone, that app functionality may be on hold during the call. With all of it’s well-documented faults (mostly in cellular service and connectivity), the AT&T iphone is more of a multi-tasker. One can be on the phone and send a text message, or email, or search the web at the same time. For those of us who live on the phone, that’s important.

For some, all that matters is reliable phone service. And if that’s your main criterion, the Verizon version of the iPhone wins hands down. David Pogue, the Mac Guru and tech columnist of the New York Times, conducted his own scientific test recently. He carried an AT&T iphone, and a Verizon iPhone around with him for a week. He reports that his AT&T phone consistently dropped calls, while the Verizon iPhone consistently did not.

There are many current Verizon customers who were only too happy to finally get their mitts on an iPhone. The AT&T customers looking to jump ship and go to Verizon, however, have other factors to consider. One is the early termination fees on their AT&T contracts, if their two-year commitment hasn’t expired yet. The other is data usage. Early adopters on AT&T still enjoy unlimited data plans (it is no longer offered for new customers), while Verizon states it will offer unlimited data plans on the iphone “for now”. Eventually Verizon plans to throttle down that offer to 2Gb per month for $25. For power smartphone users, overage charges will add up quickly.

The next item to consider is roll-over minutes – a feature only offered on AT&T. If we switch to Verizon, those roll-over minutes will disappear, the data usage will eventually be capped at 2Gigs per month, and the phone will not work when we travel to our Chalet in the Alps, our favorite restaurant in Rome, or museum in Paris.

And finally, the Verizon iPhone 4 is older technology. In a few months, the next version of the iPhone should become available from Apple and AT&T. Do we really want to abandon AT&T in spite, and adopt the CDMA iphone 4 just to be locked in to that older technology for the next two years? The trend is towards 4G cellular service. What if the next generation of iPhone, which would most likely be introduced in June, were 4-G capable? (For an explanation of the difference between the 3G network, and 4G network, please see the article “iPhone 4 and 4G Cellular Networks – Apples and Oranges”.

In our opinion, Apple should have incorporated the 4G cellular technology into the Verizon iPhone from the start. Verizon stated they would have liked that. But then EVERYONE, especially AT&T customers, would have flocked to Verizon en masse, which would have devastated AT&T in many different ways.

In short, we believe the argument to switch from AT&T to Verizon is, at least at present, weak. Within a few months there will be a new version of the iPhone, and we don’t like the idea of locking ourselves into a two-year contract on a CDMA version of last year’s iPhone 4. Who knows? Perhaps the iPhone “5” will be smaller, cooler, faster . . . 4G COMPLIANT. Live video streaming and Face Time (the video conferencing feature) via the cellular network is VERY attractive. Currently Face Time and video streaming only works via WIFI connection, not via the 3G cellular network. That is of course unless you hack your phone. But with the data limits on the “Verizon”, who wants that?

Nope. For now at least, we’re going to stick with AT&T. We’ve suffered through the poor connectivity this long, a few more months won’t kill us. Besides, we’ve accumulated so many roll-over minutes that we need some time to take advantage of them. And, if the “iPhone 5” continues the trend of fabulous improvements, and even sports 4G connectivity, then the wait will have been worth it.

If, on the other hand, the faster 4G network does not become part of the equation with AT&T by June, 2011, then all bets are off. By then Verizon will surely have adapted its iPhone to the faster and more reliable 4G network. At that point, no manner of roll-over minutes will keep us from finally walking away from AT&T and embracing Verizon’s superior network.

Hacked AOL Address Books and forwarded chain emails – the latest threat to your security

We’ve received several calls from clients recently, who suspected that their Macs had been hacked from the outside. While they were incorrect about the method, it appears that a new twist on an old scam has surfaced, and that it is surprisingly, alarmingly, successful. We have reason to believe that email addresses in AOL address books and chain-emails are being compromised by criminals overseas. The criminals send “emergency” alerts out to friends and family of unsuspecting victims, and, posing as the victim, claim to be in trouble and in need of cash to get home. These messages are more refined than the “Prince in Nigeria needs help getting inheritance out of Africa” messages we have all received at one time or another.

A sample of a successful scam follows:

Subject: Emergency!!!

I’m writing this with tears in my eyes, I’m sorry for this odd request because it might get to you too urgent, but due to the situation of things right now, I’m stuck in London United Kingdom right now, i came down here on a short vacation and i was robbed, my bags, cash, cards and my cell phone were stolen off me at GUN POINT, so i only have access to my emails, it was such a crazy and brutal experience for me and i was hurt on my right hand, but I’m glad i still have my life. I need help flying back home, the authorities are not being 100% supportive, i have been to the embassy and the Police here in London, but they’re not helping issues at all, but the good thing is that i still have my passport but don’t have enough money to get my flight ticket back home and some bills settled, please i need you to loan me some money, i promise to refund it as soon as I’m back home. You can get it to me through western union, email me back so that i can give you details to send it to.

[End of message sample].

This was sent to a client’s address book listing while the client happened to be traveling this summer. She could not be immediately reached, so naturally her friends and family were very concerned.

Now, most of us might say “who is going to fall for that?” Sadly, if a loved one seems to have sent you this sort of message, and you then can’t reach them on the phone, you might be alarmed. There are several variations of this type of fraudulent message floating around. The bad guys have become more sophisticated.

Another of our clients had a similar experience, and we have heard of friends of friends also falling victim to this scam.

We believe that our client’s AOL’s address book was accessed or hacked online, and not locally on her computer. When contacted, AOL was surprisingly unsympathetic to the victim’s problem. Those addresses and additional notes in the address book were used to glean private information, which was then implemented in making the “emergency” emails sound authentic. They used family names, pet names, and whatever else they could pick out of the address book information to swindle friends and family into wiring cash overseas immediately.

Another trend we’ve seen is Viagra ads going out to everyone listed on someone’s AOL and Yahoo address books. The ad appears to come directly from your friend’s mailbox. While that sort of spam is often the result of a virus, it’s increasingly sent from online address books. Your computer’s anti-virus program can’t prevent that. Your computer is no longer necessary to commit the scam. All the criminal needs is your name, your email address, and a list of your friends.

Should you fall victim to this sort of scam, either as sender or recipient, here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself:

1) If you receive an emergency email, try to reach the person claiming to be in trouble FIRST, and confirm the mail – by phone. DO NOT REPLY TO THE MESSAGE BY HITTING “REPLY”.

2) Take a close look at the sender’s email. In most cases, the criminal has imitated the sender’s email address, but used a different free service like gmail, aol, yahoo or hotmail. If the address is different than what your friend or loved one usually uses to write to you, BEWARE. It’s probably an imposter. The big tip-off is if the emergency email asks you to reply ONLY via email for more information.

2b) Alert your internet service provider, and your email service provider (you may be using Verizon for one, and Godaddy, for example, for the other).

3) Should YOU fall victim to someone sending out emergency emails in your name, alert everyone in your address book immediately that your address has been hijacked. One of our clients was brilliant and did this immediately, and stopped the scam in its tracks. Email address hijacking is incredibly easy to do. It’s also known as “spoofing.” (We won’t describe how it’s done here, as we don’t know where this alert will eventually end up.)

4) If you do any financial business online (banking, investment, bill payment, etc), alert your banks, credit card companies and so on immediately, and change your passwords. (You should never send passwords via email at any time. As we see here, email is not secure).

5) If your address book has been compromised, change your email address. It can be painful yes, but is no worse than changing your phone number. Your friends, family, colleagues and clients will get over it.

6) Change your passwords. Changing your email address and then using the SAME old password is pointless.

7) Make sure your password is a secure one. Use a combination of letters and numbers, not your kid’s name, pet’s name or your listed phone number. Do not just add a “1” to the end of your name. That’s the first thing someone will try when trying to crack it. Very obvious. Do not use “ABC123” or “password”. Foreign words are good, especially if you combine them with a number or two.

8) Write down your password in a safe place (not in a document on your computer entitled “Passwords”)

9) If you have a wireless network, make sure it requires a password to get online. You don’t want someone parking their car outside your house and using your internet to order goods on a stolen credit card. They’ll track the packages, wait for delivery outside of your home, and then leave with the packages. When the fraudulent charges are traced, the authorities will come to YOUR address. Always protect your network.

10) You may want to share this email with your friends, family, and colleagues, so that they are aware in advance of this sort of scam. Agree to only respond to such “emergency” emails if they can be verified. Let them know you would never ask for cash to be wired overseas in an email.

Next, hacking into personal computers, especially Macs, is not as easy as Hollywood will have you believe. It’s more fruitful for these criminals to hack into large banks, email service providers, and vendors. News reports have surfaced of hackers hijacking entire client lists at major retailers, and holding those lists of credit card numbers hostage. The banks or merchants reportedly pay ransoms to get those lists back, and keep the security breach quiet. Other fertile grounds for the con artists are the enormous amounts of forwarded emails many of us are forced to sift through.

Ever notice how many email addresses are listed on those jokes that Uncle Fred keeps forwarding to you? Do everyone a favor and don’t forward them! If a con man finds such an email, all he has to do is send a reply to that “list”. Many of those listed will know one another. Thanks to that forwarded joke, most of them are now potential targets for con artists.

The thing to do when forwarding an email, is to click on “Forward”, go into the body of the email, and erase everything EXCEPT the point of the mail – the joke, the statement, the link, or the picture. Protect everyone else and delete all of those addresses. No one wants to scroll through addresses and comments for half an hour just to get to the point of the mail. Delete them! Send only the point of the mail.

And finally, even though you have a mostly impervious Macintosh, don’t assume you are not at risk. If you don’t use a password for logging in to your Mac, you are at risk. If you do not have a password requirement for your wireless network, you are at risk. If your password for your email account on AOL or any of the other free, online service is a simple word found in ANY language dictionary, you are at risk. Hackers have programs that will throw every word found in a dictionary at a password login. Eventually, one of them will stick, and anything in your past emails, sent emails, or address book, becomes available to the professional criminal. From there it’s a small jump to stealing your identity.

These “emergency” emails sent out in someone’s name were not necessarily the result of a virus or a direct hack of the victim’s computer. Anti-virus software would not have protected them in this case. Either the ONLINE address book was hacked, or, a long, forwarded email was re-engineered.

We leave you with a parting thought. Install Anti-virus software, and backup your data on an external drive. Backup your data. Backup your data. Backup your data. Do it today. If you are backing up, check it. Make sure it’s working. Make sure someone hasn’t turned the external drive off by mistake, or that the computer is still trying to complete the backup you started five months ago (it happens). If you can ‘t get Time Machine to work, or if your system doesn’t include Time Machine (pre-Leopard), download a free copy of Super Duper from Versiontracker.com or shirtpocket.com. Then clone your drive onto another, blank external drive. Worst case, simply drag your data onto the external drive image and wait for it to finish copying. See our other posts for tips on backup routines and options.

We hope this alert will help prevent you, and your loved ones, from falling victim to these scams. Now please, go backup your data and check it.

How to get your own domain

Get your own domain, and never have to change your email address again.

For most people, the idea of having their own domain is daunting. Many aren’t even sure what a domain is, but they assume that a web site would be involved. To put it simply, a domain is the name given to a particular address you would use on the web, such as “thedetechtives.com”, or “patientfriendlyandaffordable.com. The challenge is really coming up with a domain name, or address, that no one has taken yet. You won’t find names like “worldpeace.com” or realeastateagent.com available. You’ll have to be more original. Domains are not limited to dot coms either. You may find a dot net, or dot org, or even dot TV.

Every now and then, you may receive a very competitive offer from an internet service provider other than your own. Instead of paying the current $50 per month, perhaps a competitors offers you the same connection speed at half the price. Problem is, you would have to switch. That means either paying your previous ISP a smaller monthly fee to keep your original email address, or, notifying everyone in your address book of your new email address. Not only can this be a real hassle, but there is always the danger that someone, somewhere, won’t know of your address change.

There is a better way. How would you like to have your very own email domain? Wouldn’t it be simple to just give out yourname@yourdomain.com? Someone named Nadine Shaw could set up Nadine@shaw.com. She would be completely independent of any service provider, and could switch to whichever service provided the best deal at any given time. Her email address would be hosted by Godaddy, not any ISP. Does that mean you have to set up and pay for a web site? No. All you need is an original name to use as a domain. We really like the services provided by an internet company called Godaddy.com. In fact, we now purchase all of our domains from them.

Are you paying too much for your Internet Access?

How much are you paying your internet service provider for access every month? Is it broadband (DSL)? We’ve discovered that many clients are paying Earthlink, for example, an average of $50 per month for their DSL service. Considering that other providers, such as Verizon and SBC (now AT&T) are charging between $14.99 and $29.99 for DSL, Earthlink sounds over-priced. If your speed is just a step above dial-up, and you’re still paying around $50 per month, then you definitely want to re-examine your options.

To test your internet speed, and thus be sure that you’re getting what you paid for, go to a site like Speakeasy.net. We like the Speakeasy.net speed test because it’s simple, easy to follow, and tends to be a bit more accurate than some other sites we’ve tried. Just follow the prompts to test your internet connection speed.

You’ll notice that for the speed test, there are many different servers, located in different cities, to choose from. If you’re not sure what a server is, or which one to chose, don’t worry. All you really want to do is test the closest location to you that you can find. This should give you a “best case scenario” connection. If you live in Los Angeles, for example. choose the Los Angeles server. In theory, the closer the server is to you, the faster your connection speed results should be.

Broadband or DSL service comes in different flavors, or speeds. The $14.99 per month service sold by Verizon is not going to be as fast as the $75 per month service sold by Earthlink. As of this writing, Earthlink DSL offers a high-speed package, rated as high as a blazing 6.0 per second, that costs $75 per month. That’s not bad. Cable broadband service can run about the same price or less, but clocks in at a slower 4.0 per second. The less expensive option, a $14.99 service offered by Verizon, promises a meager 768 download and 128k upload. The point is that you should be getting the service speed that you are paying for. Many users, who have had DSL since it was first introduced, unwittingly continue to pay high rates for their broadband DSL, and are stuck with slower connections.

As one client put it: “They’re not going call you to ask you to pay them less.”

Take a look at the speed you’re getting, and compare it to what’s offered in your market. Keep in mind that phone companies, as well as cable companies, service only specific areas.

Verizon phone service (an thus DSL), for example, may not be available where SBC/AT&T service is. The same holds true for Adelphia cable, Comcast and Charter. While you may not save money, you might certainly upgrade your service for free by making a phone call. Tell them your speed test results. Ask them why you’re being charged $50 a month, when your neighbor is paying $29.99 for a considerably faster connection. Companies like Earthlink really act as “middle men”. They sub-lease the phone lines from the phone companies to provide you with internet service. Of course they offer other features as part of the entire package, but the discussion here is about speed and value. Did you ever save money by using a middle man?

Next, find out about freeing yourself up for the best internet connection deals, without ever changing your email address again. See “Getting your own domain.”