Itunes Update may delete some data, Macbook Air is a solid revision, and the iPad is here to stay

Monday Morning Report – October 25, 2010

The Monday Morning Report features a summary of recent tech support issues that we’ve encountered and resolved, and some current Mac platform-specific topics that our clients bring up..

The big news this past week was the introduction of not only a new Macbook Air, but also the newest rendition of the Mac Operating System, “Lion” 10.7. While Lion won’t be out until mid-summer of next year, the newest, thinnest laptop is available in stores now. It feels more substantial, and has a long-overdue, very welcome second USB port. But we’ll review the laptop is a separate article later. The other news is that Steve Jobs has apparently scoffed at the introduction of 7” screen pads by other manufacturers. It sounds like the next iPad will still sport the 9.7” screen. No update yet on WHEN that second generation iPad will arrive. They don’t want to kill the brisk sales of iPads currently in stores.

This brings us to our overall impression of the iPad phenomenon. Let me cut right to the chase. Judging from the huge impact the iPad has had in just the first few months, I think it’s safe to say that most everyone will be sporting some sort of Pad, whether by Apple or not, within the next three years. iPads are everywhere now. It’s being handed out in restaurants as an interactive Wine List, complete with the history of the grape, video clips and narration. (Hope they have that Pad tethered to the chair.) There will be hold-outs, to be sure. Just as there were many hold-outs when the laptop first appeared. Indeed, the first laptop (Osborne-1, 1981) weighed as much as a car battery, because it NEEDED the equivalent of a car battery to operate. The screen was 5 inches in diameter. They sold 10,000 units per month when it was first introduced. The Osborne company went bankrupt two years later. The first Mac “laptop” was the “Mac Portable” (1989), and weighed 17 pounds. The point is, there will be trailblazers, gadget-hounds and businessmen. Eventually, those who don’t have some sort of iPad, Slate, Playbook or other digital Pad will seem quaint – like people today who don’t HAVE a mobile number, because they refuse to get a cell phone. Tribesmen in the remotest parts of Africa have cell phones, by the way and probably enjoy better reception with their carrier than we have here with AT&T in Los Angeles . But that’s another story.

The iPad is revolutionary because it’s approachable. It’s not intimidating. Not a single user we have come across regrets buying an iPad. Email and internet is easy. The text and images are easily magnified. The interface is intuitive (and not foreign, thanks to the success of the iphone), and the unit is lighter than a laptop (though it could still be a bit lighter, according to several users). Those who have the Kindle DX have all but abandoned it for the iPad, though in certain situations the Kindle can still prove useful. But the Kindle can’t come close to doing what the iPad does. And as any Mac user who has used a Kindle can tell you, the interface on the Kindle is hardly intuitive.

Unlike some previous introductions of Apple hardware (such as the first-generation Macbook Air), to say the iPad is a hit is an understatement. For a more detailed explanation of tips and tricks for the iPad, take a look at our article “Tips for setting up the iPad for the first time”.

The other big news on the tech front is Apple TV and the necessary, but apparently risky, iTunes 10.0.1 update. We’ve witnessed a few instances of data loss after running that update. Specifically, on some machines this iTunes update seems to make purchased items such as movies and tv shows disappear from the library. One client lost ALL of his TV shows, while another lost several gigs of purchased music.

In a perfect world, these things are always backed up and readily available for restoration. Unfortunately, a few of our clients do not live in a perfect world. Time machine did not make a valid backup of their data, and they faced either repurchasing those items or forgetting about them. A quick search on the web revealed that their experience was not unique. What’s especially surprising is that the deletion of the data is very selective. Since the iTunes library music is still there, and not ALL of the content is deleted, many users may not even notice that they have just lost some or all of their purchased video content, or purchased songs. Calls to Apple brought us nowhere. They referred us to what should have been our backup – but that didn’t work. The Applecare tech claimed he hadn’t heard of this problem before – and I assured him he would be hearing a lot more about it very soon. Apple then posted a fix that didn’t work for us, but may work for you. Check our “How-To” section for a link to detailed instructions for restoring missing items in your iTunes library.

The Mantra we always offer is: backup your data and verify it’s current before you do any updates. If everything is working fine on your Mac, skip whatever updates are offered. This is especially true if your Mac is a bit older, and does not have an Intel chip, for example. If you’re running a G5 or even a G4, those updates may not even apply to you. Note also that some updates don’t necessarily offer amazing new features – they can also take old features away. iTunes is a perfect example. Once upon a time (pre-iTunes 6), users were able to strip Digital Rights Management limitations from songs in their library (via a third party plug-in) That ability was quashed with an update. If your Macs interface with other hardware, such as the Sonos music system, an update might render your setup MUTE. Have a favorite list of radio stations you like to listen to? After that next update, that favorite list may disappear.

Frankly, a lot of updates work as they are supposed to, if the system they are updating is well-maintained. If, however, there are underlying issues you may be unaware of, an update could cause the system or the apps or several apps to crash. Computers are not appliances (yet), but the iPad is another step closer to making them seem like an appliance. No CDs, DVDs, or multitude of cables. The iPad just works.

Similarly, the latest Apple TV has been slimmed down and simplified for functionality. No more internal hard drive, no more sync issues. It’s all about streaming the content from your computer or the web now. And, Netflix access is included in a pretty itunes interface. Nice.

For more information on the new Apple TV, check out our Apple TV review. For our take on updates overall, watch our “How to update your Mac properly” video clip, coming soon.

And finally for this week, we’ve discovered that many users don’t realize how their Boot Camp installation really works. We’re currently working on a video clip to address this issue. In short, Boot Camp partitions are created by those users who need to run the Windows operating system on their Mac. The assumption is that Time Machine, the automated backup routine that is built into 10.5.x and 10.6.x includes the Windows data in the backup. It does NOT. The Boot Camp partition is created for Windows by design. Time Machine does NOT include that partition when it makes a backup of your data. If your Mac is hosed, and you haven’t setup some sort of backup for the Windows side, you’re out of luck. There is a very simple, easy solution however. Check back soon for our video tutorial on how to backup up your Boot Camp Windows partition. When it’s complete, you’ll find it in our “how-to” section of the site.

If you are using Windows on your Mac via another method, such as Parallels or VM Fusion, without a separate Boot Camp partition, then your Windows configuration IS included in your Time Machine backup. But we’ve noticed restoring from such a backup is really “hit or miss”. We recommend configuring some sort of automated backup routine either from within Windows, or taking the time every week or every month (depending how often you use your Windows setup on the Mac) to archive your Windows data on a separate drive or USB flash card. You could also copy your documents to the Mac side, and THEN let Time Machine backup those documents. Depending on what application those documents were created in, you may need a Windows system to read them. We discuss the benefits and pitfalls of each type of setup (Boot camp vs. Emulation in Parallels or VM Fusion) in another article to be posted soon. Tune in next and every Monday for more.