Business Insider puts the “sensational” in sensationalistic headlines

There’s an article on Business Insider (BI) today entitled, “Apple finally shuts down its failed cloud storage service,” in reference to MobileMe’s transition to iCloud. I’m embarrassed to have taken the bait, but here I am.

Note the “finally.” As if disgruntled users have been waiting for this day to come. Apple did not “shut down” the service, it transitioned MobileMe to a better and less expensive one ($99 vs. free), called iCloud. MobileMe was a lot more than a “cloud storage service,” and so is its successor, iCloud. Oh, BI. It’s too early in the morning for this nonsense.

Apple giving Snow Leopard to MobileMe customers for free

Apple has sent an email to MobileMe customers [1. So I’m told. My Apple email hasn’t worked for almost two days.] explaining how they can request a free Snow Leopard installer DVD, according to Macgasm. Installing Snow Leopard will let stragglers upgrade to Lion and then install iCloud.

It’s unclear if Snow Leopard will be made available for free for everyone or just select MobileMe customers.

[Via Macgasm]

MobileMe, iCloud and add-on email address

Years ago, when Apple’s MobileMe was new, I created an account for $99. I added two additional email addresses for $10 each. My wife uses one of them to this day.

Today she received an email from Apple prompting her to convert to iCloud. I’d rather not clutter things up around here with two iCloud accounts. If I don’t, will I (she) lose that email address? I’m hoping the answer is no.

Comments are open.

Restore with Apple’s Backup

This is the third and final post in my series on Apple’s Backup software for Mac OS X. The first offered a brief overview and the second described how to use Backup without a MobileMe account. In this article, I’ll explain how to restore your data with Backup.

Backup is a piece of software that Apple offers to MobileMe customers. A predecessor to Time Machine, Backup’s main purpose is to back up data in your home folder, though it can be customized to do more. Of course, even the most flexible backup solution is useless if the restoration process stinks. Fortunately, restoring with Backup is a breeze. Here’s how.

Typical Backup

First, launch Backup as you typically do. Then, select the plan that contains the data you’re after and click Restore. A new window appears. Here you’ll select the backup set you’d like to restore. Next, check the particular content of the restore set you want (see below).

Finally, click Restore Selection. You’re presented with two options. The first lets you restore only missing items. For example, if you’ve got a Backup plan that backs up your Documents folder and you only need a single document, choose this option. You’ll grab the single file and save yourself a lot of time.

Alternatively, if  the entire folder is gone (or even all or most of its contents), opt to replace the existing items. That will restore all files and folders to their original locations using data from that backup, replacing existing items. Here’s a look at the final screen before implementing the restore.

Confirming Activity

If a backup set is particularly large, it could be a bit taxing on Backup, especially on slower Macs. In fact, the app could appear inactive or frozen while processing the backup information. Fortunately, there’s a way to confirm that it’s actually working and not stuck. Here’s how.

First, launch Activity Monitor (it lives in you Utilities folder) and then double-click Backup. Next, click Open Files and Ports. You should see that files are being opened and read by Backup (see below).

Force a Manual Restore

If none of the above methods work, you may have to force a manual restore. First, right-click on the Backup file to reveal its contents and then open the Contents folder. Inside you’ll see another Contents folder. Open that one, too.

You’ll find a file called Backup.sparseimage. Double-click it. A new volume called “Backup” will mount on your desktop. Search inside for the data you want to restore, and simply drag it out of the volume and into the Finder.

Restore to an Alternate Location

Finally, you can opt to restore to a location other than that of the original file(s). To do this, select the Restore to an alternate location check box during the restoration process. A new window appears, asking where you’d like the restored files to be placed.

I’ll conclude my three-part look at Backup with one last trick. Like most contemporary backup solutions, Backup makes incremental backups. That is to say, the first backup of a given data set grabs everything, while subsequent backups only copy what has changed. You can, however, force a full backup at anytime by selecting the set to be backed up and then choosing Full Backup from the Plan menu.

I hope these posts have prompted you to take another look at this oft-neglected software from Apple. It’s actually very useful.

Apple’s other backup software

Update: For ideas on how to use Backup without MobileMe, look here.

Backup is the backup software from Apple that’s available to MobileMe customers. It’s been around a lot longer than Time Machine. While not nearly as robust, it’s a useful piece of software. I still use it to back up smaller directories to an external disk, but it can also be used to back up to your iDisk, CDs and DVDs.

Scheduling is included as well as support for custom “Backup Plans.” These will target specific directories, schedules, destinations and more.

Since there’s no such thing as “too much backup,” here’s a brief look at Backup.

The first time it’s launched, Backup will suggest five Backup Plans: Home Folder, Personal Data & Settings, iLife, iTunes Library and Custom. The Home Folder plan will create a backup of your entire home folder to a disk weekly and to removable media, like a CD or DVD, monthly.

Personal Data & Settings is one I use. It grabs your Address Book contacts, Stickes, iCal calendars, Safari settings (bookmarks, preferences, history, etc.) and Keychain settings to your iDisk daily. I’ve found that, thanks to Dropbox, I wasn’t using my iDisk for much. The result was 18 GB free on my iDisk. [1. To allocate storage to your iDisk, log into me.com from a browser. Next, click Account and then Storage Settings. Finally, use the drop-down menu next to Mail to assign as much of your 20 GB of storage as you want to your mailbox. The rest is assigned to iDisk storage.] It’s a shame to waste that space, so now it holds off-site backups of that information.

The iLife Backup Plan grabs your iPhoto library, iMovie projects, GarageBand Projects and iDVD projects. This is potentially a massive backup, so have plenty of DVDs ready.[2. You can send those backups to an external disk instead of CDs/DVDs.] It backs up weekly.

iTunes Library will backup the contents of your iTunes folder to CD or DVD monthly.

Those don’t float your boat? Then make your own. Click Custom for a nice number of options. For instance, Backup ships with a number of custom Backup Plans, called “Quick Picks,” like backup Filemaker files, Numbers, Pages Keynote files or Microsoft Excel documents. Alternatively, you can specify certain files or folders and even the results of a Spotlight search.

Don’t feel like customizing? You’ll find some really nice ready-made Quick Picks from the likes of Scott Boms and MacUpdate.

MobileMe customers who are looking for a little extra piece of mind or even have under-used iDisk storage space should consider Apple’s Backup 3. At the very least, it’s an off-site supplement to Time Machine. Because it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Streaming music from iDisk [Updated]

Thanks to Michael Robertson, the tech web latched onto the fact that the iDisk iPhone app lets users stream MP3 and AAC files stored on their iDisks in the background. I pointed this out two months ago. Today, David Chartier explained why this isn’t the first hint of a future cloud-based music service:

“For one thing, you have to manually move or copy music files into your iDisk (in Macworld’s brief testing, it doesn’t matter where you store the files in your iDisk). When a song finishes, you have to manually open the app and select another song to play, as there is no playlist support or even continuous play functionality for multiple tracks in a single folder. The previous and next track buttons in the background playback controls don’t work either; they simply end the currently playing song.”

I’m anxious for a cloud-based version of iTunes, too. Unfortunately, this isn’t it.

Update: I originally linked to the wrong TUAW article. That has been fixed. Thanks, @slim.

Apple’s updated Mail

After a short public beta (just over one month), Apple updated its Mail web app for MobileMe customers last week. The new features are now available to everyone, plus a few that weren’t a part of the beta. The major changes include a new UI, the addition of rules, one-click archiving and support for external email addresses. Here’s what’s changed and what we can glean from this update.

UI

The new look is the most striking change. All MobileMe web apps now share one toolbar with fewer icons. Starting from the right and working to the left, account information and logout buttons are in the same spot. The search bar has been moved to the far left on the new toolbar (below, top). Next, the strip of “action” buttons — Delete, Reply, Reply All, Forward, Refresh and Compose — have been replaced with Delete, Archive, Move to a Folder, Reply and Compose.

Finally, the series of app icons from the old toolbar (above, bottom) has been replaced by a single could icon (above, top). Clicking it brings up an application switcher (below), reminiscent of hitting Command-Tab in OS X. You’ll notice that the Mail, Calendar, Gallery, iDisk and Find my iPhone icons are the very same ones used by iOS devices.

Here are the other toolbars:

Contacts. The center icons are changed to New, Edit and Delete. The rest are the same.

Calendar. Navigation icons (Today, previous, Day, Week, Month and next) are in in the center. The rest are the same.

Gallery. Now Upload, Settings, Delete and Rotate are in the center. The rest are the same.

Find my iPhone. This one’s a bit different. There’s only the cloud icon, an option to refresh your device’s location and the login.

The updated Mail also offers three viewing options. Widescreen is a three-column view that puts mailboxes on the left, message information (subject, author and initial blurb) in the middle and the message body on the right. Classic view uses two columns with mailboxes on the left and the right-hand column split horizontally with message previews on top and the body below.

The compact view, which I’m using, is like widescreen minus the mailboxes (below, top). This layout resembles mail for iPad when the iPad is in landscape orientation (below, bottom).

The new preferences window has five options: General, Addresses, Composing, Rules and Vacation. Rules is the new feature here, and as this rounds out the UI changes, let’s see what that’s about.

Rules

At long last, users can apply rules to messages sent and received with the Mail web app. Unfortunately it’s limited in practice. Before we get into that, here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, rules are applied across devices. That means you can set up a rule in your browser and it will be applied to messages sent and received with your iPod touch, iPhone, iPad and Mac running Mail for the desktop. For me this is huge. Recently we put out a call for new bloggers at TUAW. I set up a rule to move applications to a target folder on my Mac, which worked well.

However, it didn’t apply to my iPhone and my inbox was cluttered with an avalanche of applications. And that’s just one reason I’m excited about cross-platform compatibility.

Also note that it can take a while for rules to “kick in.” I found my test rule started working in under 10 minutes. Also, you can re-order rules with a drag-and-drop.

What kind of rules can you create? Nothing too fancy, I’m afraid. The available actions are:

  • Move message to a folder
  • Move message to the trash
  • Forward message to an address

You can tell Mail to act on messages that

  • Are to a certain address
  • Are from a certain address
  • CC a certain address
  • have a specific string in the subject

That’s all I’d use, but  it won’t be enough for some users. Below are some screenshots of the rules setup screens.

Archiving

One-click arching will move messages out of your inbox and into the archives folder for storage. Remember that your account comes with 20GB of storage, which you can allocate as you wish between iDisk and Mail. To make adjustments, log into MobileMe and select Account. Next, click Storage Settings. From there you can allocate your storage space. Click Save when you’re through.

I don’t use my email client as a file cabinet, but that’s another post entirely.

External email addresses

This feature was not a part of the beta. Users with multiple accounts can receive messages sent to those accounts with MobileMe. Additionally, if  you reply to a message sent to an external account from the Mail web app (and only the web app), you can have it appear to have come from that other account’s address. To set things up, simply forward the external address to your MobileMe address.

It’s interesting that MobileMe web mail and iOS are sharing so many visual cues. The Mail, Calendar, Gallery, iDisk and Find my iPhone icons in the new switcher are exactly the same as the corresponding iOS apps. Likewise, the compact view is nearly identical to mail on the iPad.

The similarities aren’t limited to software, either. Consider the new Mac mini. Its top looks awfully similar to the back of the iPad. The iMac’s display, with its glossy black bezel, resembles the iPad’s screen.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Apple’s design elements have spread across the line. The original iMac begat the G3 iBook. Then Mac OS 10.0 was release with shiny, aqua buttons. The original iPod ushered in the “white period,” and iBooks and iMacs followed suit.

That’s because Apple’s product line is practically a product in and of itself.  For now, iOS and the iDevices are receiving much creative time and attention. It’s clear that Apple believes that’s where the future of computing lies (a segment of computing anyway), so it’s logical that those visual cues would spread.

In the end, does this update mean you should become a MobileMe customer? No. If you weren’t convinced a week ago, this update won’t do it. Many of the MobileMe services can be had elsewhere. Others, like the stellar new Find My iPhone app, cannot. iDisk is still too slow, but the typically seamless synchronization of data across devices alone is worth it for some.

Current customers will love this update. Those waiting for more will continue to do so.