Critical Mac Security Update

For those of you who keep an eye out for weird pop-ups and messages, you most likely noticed a Notification or Growl message that “A critical security updated has been applied.”

When I saw that, I had a moment of panic, as I had – up until now – told OS X that I wanted to manually install patches, updates, and fixes. So this message out of the blue was a bit of a shock. After some online research (and with help from some great Twitter friends like @UberBrady ) I was able to get to the bottom of it.

First things first, if you upgraded to Yosemite from earlier versions of OS X, most of your preferences came over – but one very important one was added and is turned on by default. OS X starting in Yosemite includes an “emergency update system” that automatically downloads and applies any patches that Apple believes to be extremely critical security fixes. They have, to date, only classified one such patch in that category, and this was it. This critical update system is ENABLED by default, and frankly you should leave it enabled. But if – for some reason – you need to turn it off, jump over to Apple Menu| System Preferences| App Store and you’ll see the settings for auto-updates, including the relatively new one for emergency patches labeled “Install system data files and security updates”:

Screenshot of the App Store preferences

Even though this would appear to be for a lot of patches, note that you’ll still have to download and install “optional,” “Important,” and other patches manually if you do not check the other two boxes.

Now, onto the particulars of the update:

Apple recently announced a fix for a Network Time Protocol (NTP) system in OS X. The bug could allow an attacker to take control of system resources (which is a bad thing) with relatively little effort (which is a HORRIBLE thing). This means un-patched systems are vulnerable to attack and need to be patched immediately. Luckily, if you haven’t changed the defaults, Yosemite will patch it automatically as described above.

A more detailed explanation of what the vulnerability is can be found on Apple’s Site.

So, have no fear, the unexpected Notification is not, itself, and attack. Rather, it’s a new feature in OS X designed to help protect against attackers, and was just rather well hidden – and never before used – up to this point.

Stay Safe!

Free is never free.

The iDevice/OS X world is full of free apps. They do all kinds of things from determining the outcome of coin flips to helping you figure out what movie to see.

And you need to start avoiding every one of them.

There are two reasons that you should opt out of “free” apps anytime your finances allow:

1 – They may make money

2 – They may not make money

Both lead to horrible things, and there really isn’t a 3rd option available.

1 – They make money

The business of nearly every app designer is to – somehow – make money from their app. Granted, there are exceptions to this rule, and some truly altruistic app developers out there, but they are extraordinarily rare. In 99 out of 100 apps, the goal is to make the developers money so they can make more apps, retire, take over the world, etc.

The problem with free apps is that you’re not paying for them – so who is? Well, the truth is that they’re making money – just not from you directly. That means that they’re going to make money by targeting advertising, or otherwise selling any information you give the application to the highest bidder (you hope). No matter if it is selling ad space or selling email contact lists, in either case you’re paying for the app with something (your attention or your info) and paying a lot more than the 99 cents it would probably have cost if you just bought the app outright.

Or, the app may make money via micro-purchases for something you need to make the app work – or at least work well. Zynga’s games are a prime example of this. Want to make your farm work better? Give up your friends’ information or pay Zynga to get in-game stuff. Neither option is actually free, as one will alienate your friends and the other lightens your wallet.

Alternately, they could just sell the whole app and all the information it gathered to someone all at once. Facebook acquiring Instagram is a somewhat recent example of this. Now, all that info and all your photos belong to Facebook – no matter what they try to do to gloss it over in the End User License Agreements. So, once again, the app developer has made money from you, even if they didn’t take the cash out of your digital wallet directly.

2 – They may not make money
If an app cannot make money from you, and they cannot or will not make money from ads or other means; then that’s a bigger problem. Apps that make no money can’t fund development. They can’t support their developers and have very little incentive to move the product forward. Many free apps from less than a year ago are already outdated, don’t run on the latest versions of iOS or OS X, or have just disappeared entirely. This means no bug fixes, no support, no viability in the long term at all.

Now, there are indeed some free apps that are not making money but are actively supported and developed. They typically fall into two categories:

1 – Apps supported by in-app upgrades or apps that have both free and paid versions. Instapaper is a great example of this, with versions of the app that are clearly ad-supported and feature-restricted; and others that are add-free and non-restricted. You can (and a great many people do) pay for premium accounts to unlock all the features. This allows the developer to make money and still offer a limited version for free. Granted, the limited version is still not quite “free” – but at least they have a legitimate business plan and are not just farming your email contacts.

2 – Apps that are actually part of a larger company or service that you’re paying for. Your bank, grocery store, gym, and comic-book shop may all have free apps. These apps are paid for by you frequenting those stores, with the apps acting as digital access or storefronts. The app isn’t free, you’re paying for goods and/or services from the company that gives the app away. While those companies are still at risk of being bought out and giving up your info, at least that is not their primary goal in producing and supporting the app in the first place.

So, be wary any time you see a free app. If there’s one that’s 99 cents or two bucks, and you can afford it, then go for that app instead. Or, if you are a customer of a business and they have an app that you’re paying for with your patronage, go for that. Otherwise, the app isn’t really free, and the price you pay can be much higher than you’d ever expect.

Wither Microsoft – Part III – How to use Microsoft tools on a Mac

Alright, you’ve made it through the first two articles and have decided you need to use Microsoft tools in some form on your Mac. But which form is right for you?

First, determine if the apps you need are even available on OS X. Many Windows-based tools are not, so this could be an easy decision. Here’s some of the more common apps that do have OS X counterparts available directly from their vendors:

Office – Microsoft produces Office for Mac, currently at version 2011. While not every feature set is in the Mac version, the basics are there. You’ll get Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and some add-on features like the Remote Desktop Connection client.

Communicator/Lync – Note that here we’re talking about the messaging clients that are specifically used for corporate communications server systems, and NOT talking about MSN Messenger or Skype. Microsoft does have versions of both Communicator (for Office Communications Server) and Lync (for Lync Server) that are built for OS X and run on Lion and up. Most also work on Snow Leopard, but aren’t officially supported there. You will need to obtain a copy of the software and a license from your company’s IT department, as they are not sold directly to end-users like the rest of the Office suite is.

Cloud applications – Things like SalesForce, SharePoint, and other services are available via web browsers, and nearly all of them work fine in Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. This means that you don’t have to have a full (or “thick”) client software package for either Windows or Mac, and can use these apps on both.

VPN/Security tools – Cisco and other VPN vendors tend to make OS X versions of their VPN clients, but you’ll need to reach out to the vendor to be certain. If they do have an OS X app, then it is highly likely that you’ll be able to connect just the same as with the Windows version (I can vouch for the Cisco VPN app personally). Security tools are another story. Some vendors (like Sophos) do make OS X versions, but many do not properly connect to their corporate server counterparts. Again, check with the Vendor to be sure.

Many other applications used in a corporate setting (like Visio, for example) are Windows-Only, and therefore cannot run natively on a Mac. In some cases, you can find Mac application that has the same features and can read/save to/from the same file formats, allowing you to perform those tasks on a Mac. However, there will be times when an application simply exists in a Windows-only form, and there isn’t any Mac app that can get the job done.

For these times, it’s a good idea to create either a Virtual Machine or a Boot Camp partition to give you a Windows desktop when you need it, but keep out of the way otherwise. Personally, I use both for different reasons, but mostly I use a VM for day-to-day stuff.

Using a VM requires four things:
1 – A VM capable Mac
2 – A licensed copy of Windows XP, Vista, 7, or (for some VM tools) 8
3 – Disk space to hold the VM itself
4 – A license for the virtualization software

Most Macs built after 2009 can run a VM, check with your virtualization vendor (the top two are Parallels and VMware) to see if yours is ready to roll. Once you have that, and a licensed copy of both Windows and the VM software (which you can get from the vendor’s website or from the App Store), then you need some space.

A VM needs disk space to live in, and for most Windows VM’s this is a minimum of 50 GB. It can be on your local hard drive, or on a USB or other externally-attached drive. For something like a MacBook Air, this is the biggest concern, as disk space is at an absolute premium if you’re putting the VM on the local disk. You will probably need closer to 75-100 GB to hold a VM with a bunch of applications on it, so plan ahead.

Once you install the VM software, the tool should guide you through setting up a VM for the Windows OS you have chosen. If you’ve never done this before, it’s like installing Windows onto any other machine, except this machine is actually a window on your OS X desktop. The VM software from both Parallels and VMware will walk you through most of the basics, but you’ll probably want to get some help from your IT team or someone who’s installed Windows on a new machine before.

Boot Camp is another option, this is an Apple technology that allows you to install Windows into a partition (a segment of your hard drive) and boot into either Windows or Mac as needed. Apple has a lot of resources to help you do this, and you can start by reading the Knowledge Base article on the subject, located here.

Boot Camp does require a few things:

1 – An Intel-Based Mac
2 – Enough free space on your hard disk to create the partition (between 50 and 100 GB)
3 – A licensed copy of Windows Vista, 7, or (soon) 8

The major drawback to using Boot Camp is that you can only run one OS at a time. You either boot into Windows or into OS X, and you have to reboot to change between the two. This can be eliminated if you also use a VM system, as the major vendors all support booting the Boot Camp partition as a VM in OS X. This way, you can jump to Windows by rebooting if you need full horsepower, but otherwise use your Windows apps via a Virtual Machine from inside OS X.

So, now we’ve talked about why you might want to use Microsoft tools directly in OS X, why you may not want to or may not be able to, and how to use them on both Windows and OS X on the same Apple hardware. What will you do for your Mac? How will you leverage Microsoft technology along-side your Apple technology? Sound off in the comments, or drop me an email and let the world know your thoughts on the matter.

Wither Microsoft – Part II – Maybe Not

Last time, we talked about why you might want to use some of the Microsoft software technologies on your Mac. This time, let’s talk about why you may want to avoid – or at least segregate – them.

Microsoft tools are not perfect, I think we can all admit that. In all fairness, the Apple tools have their own issues, so Microsoft is not alone, but we’re Mac users and therefore we’re hoping to look for more faults in other peoples’ software =) I do want to point out that I use Microsoft products myself, both on my Mac and elsewhere. I also do a large amount of work with Windows servers, and love the OS and everything I can do with it. I simply prefer Mac as my desktop platform, and therefore have found lots of opportunity to explore mixing and matching.

So, why might you not want to use Microsoft software on your Mac?

– Incompatibility: This is the top reason I’d have to list as to why Microsoft tools may not be the best choice for you. As an example, if your company uses Exchange Server 2003 or earlier (and I know quite a few that do), then Outlook 2011 won’t connect to your Exchange Server at all. You’ll have to run a compatible version of Microsoft Outlook for Windows in a Boot Camp partition or VM. Be aware, won’t connect to Exchange 2003 or earlier either, so sometimes you just don’t have any choice.

– Less Mac-focused: A purely subjective argument, but one I can’t deny. With the Ribbon and other Windows-centric interfaces, the Microsoft apps for OS X are simply not the same in terms of look and feel as their Apple counterparts. For most folks, this isn’t a big thing, but if you’re totally in love with the interface of Pages, then Word for Mac probably won’t get you all that excited.

– The apps are slow and crash: Again, not bashing Microsoft here, but many of the Windows apps for OS X do tend to perform worse than the Apple apps that do the same thing. Outlook on Windows, for example, is in no way the most stable application I’ve ever worked with, but compared to its Mac counterpart (Outlook 2011), it’s a streamlined race car. Outlook on Mac is very slow to start up with a large mail database, freezes for several seconds at a time for no reason, has trouble regaining focus if you click on the wrong area of the screen, etc. The user groups are chock full of complaints on these and many other subjects. Word for Mac and other Office apps have similar issues, and Communicator for Mac (for those of us not on Lync Server yet) is a world of hurt all its own.

– The apps are not the same as their Windows counterparts: While Microsoft has taken great pains to try to make the OS X apps as feature-complete as the Windows versions, they didn’t manage to get everything in there. For example, Outlook 2011 has no support for Social Connectors, and just barely managed to get support for some more basic things like recurring tasks/reminders into a recent Service Pack update. If you happen to need features that are just not implemented in the Mac versions of these apps, then they won’t work for you.

As you can see, the arguments for not using the Microsoft tools for OS X are about equal to the reasons you should use them. Luckily, there are ways to get the best of both worlds. Next week we’ll talk about the different options for using Microsoft software on your Mac, including segregation using VM’s or Boot Camp.

Wither Microsoft Part I – Why you may want it.

[Editor’s notes:
First, sorry for the hiatus in my postings. I’ve been swamped with work, and ran out of pre-written posts just before the holidays here in the US. But, now that I’m back on track, you can expect a return to regular, weekly posts from here on out.

Secondly, the title of today’s column has nothing to do with Microsoft losing marketing share. Those of us who are fans of Monty Python’s Flying Circus will quickly see I’m using the conjunction form of wither, meaning “where to or wherever to” instead of the more common meaning.]

While many of us in the Apple community may wish to believe that we can totally live without any Microsoft products, there are simply too many reasons why you might find you need them. This is especially true if you use your Mac for work, or a combination of work and home life. This first article of three will discuss the reasons you might want to include Microsoft technologies into your Mac life.

Those of us who use our Macs for corporate stuff often find that the business world is an inhospitable place. If you are lucky enough to work for either a company that mostly uses Macs, or one that has an IT group that uses and supports Macs; count your blessings. Most enterprises do not rely primarily on Apple technology and – aside from a few cases where iPad apps are officially sanctioned – don’t want anything to do with them. This makes actually using your Mac and native Mac apps to access company resources a challenge at best, and a nightmare at worst.

Using some of the Microsoft tools (both on OS X and in Windows on your Mac – more on that later) can make life easier for those of us who have to talk to corporate data systems regularly. Systems like Office 2011 can give you native Outlook, Word and Excel features, though generally with a feature set and file formats that are a few years old. However, even with these legacy formats, the native experience can be much easier to deal with when working on company documents and files that were built with the Office applications on Windows machines originally. Granted, Pages and other Apple apps can do these things, but may (and probably will) have formatting and function frustrations along the way.

Also keep in mind that if a native Microsoft app like Outlook 2011 is having problems, the corporate IT staff will have far less of a hard time troubleshooting it. These apps typically use the same connection systems and functions as their Windows counterparts, so especially if the problem is server-side, you’ll end up not taking the blame for something that isn’t your Mac’s problem in the first place.

There are some very non-technical reasons to use Microsoft apps or a Windows VM as well. These days, most companies have a very strict policy when it comes to data and security and information ownership. If a system holds company data, the company owns it, no exceptions. In these cases, even though you *could* use to connect to your company’s Exchange Server, you probably don’t want to. Keeping your work email independent from your personal email means not having to worry about which account you’re sending from, what signatures are being used, and who owns the content of a particular email database. I find this method invaluable – all my work email is in Outlook, my other email is in – no confusion and no mistakes.

Of course, the biggest reason you might want to consider using Microsoft apps on OS X is if you recently converted to Mac. I know that Outlook 2011 isn’t the same as Outlook 2010 or 2013, not by a long shot. However, it is much closer to its Windows counterpart than combined with Address Book and iCal. If your entire user experience has been based on Windows versions of MS Office up until this point, then using the Office for Mac applications is going to make for a much easier transition.

Next week, we’ll talk about why you may NOT want to use Microsoft software on your Mac, and then we’ll finish up in the third column describing ways you can use Microsoft tools, either on your Mac in OS X or segregated into a VM or Boot Camp partition to keep them on their own.

Third party keyboards

Any Mac user tends to get very used to the standard keyboard layout that you get with the included aluminum dealie you get with your new iMac or can buy with a Pro or Mini. While it does work for a lot of people, I found the layout to be a bit too compressed over time. The lack of a number-pad and dedicated home, insert, delete, and other keys become quite annoying to boot. So, I went on the lookout for other keyboards I could use instead, and ran into a problem.

I prefer ergonomic keyboards, but the few available specifically for Mac were outrageously overpriced. Now, I chose that word purposely. I’m not against shelling out a reasonable amount of money for an expensive, but great, keyboard that doesn’t forget the fact that I’m going to be banging away on it for hours every day. This means that I’ll probably have to replace the thing about once per year as I wear the text off the keytops and possibly jam one or more of them over time. Asking me to pay well over two hundred bucks for any keyboard – no matter how ergonomically designed – is just price gouging.

This left me with two choices, a non-ergonomic Mac-specific keyboard, or an ergonomic wonder that’s not designed for OSX, but rather built for Windows or even Linux. I tried out both, and they have their plusses and minuses.

First, the ergonomic boards for non-OSX machines. I looked through about a dozen choices available on major shopping sites and in stores, and settled on the Microsoft Natural Keyboard, as I had been very happy with it when I was still on a Windows desktop, and the vendor (Microsoft) claims Mac compatibility. While they were not lying, there were some problems to be found in this approach. First, there’s no dedicated Command key (⌘). When you plug in or connect any new keyboard that isn’t made by Apple, OSX first asks you to identify which keys are to the left of the Z key and spacebar, and then figures out what your layout looks like. This maps the Command function to the key immediately to the left and right of the spacebar. Typically this means the Windows key gets remapped to Command, leaving Alt (Option on Mac keyboards) and Control unchanged. You can alter all these mappings in your keyboard options if that doesn’t work for you, but the defaults are pretty workable.

All in all, it was an acceptable and workable solution, but there were definitely problems with long-term use of a non-Mac-focused keyboard. First, there’s no native media keys. This may sound like a fiddly little thing, but when you get used to instant media and volume controls, and suddenly have none, it’s annoying as all get-up. Microsoft has their Intellitype software package that can make the media keys on their keyboards work for iTunes, but not for any third party applications. As a regular user of Muse and Musicality, it got even more annoying to hit pause, and find it left the Muse application playing and started playing iTunes on top of it. The same goes with the loss of one-click access to Spaces and the Dashboard, which I use quite often for a variety of reasons and apps. Once again here, Microsoft’s software can compensate for some of these keys, but not all of them (though, see below for a way to overcome the Spaces issue).

Next, I went looking for a non-ergonomic keyboard built for Mac. There’s are honestly not a lot of choices out there. Logitech has a couple, but most manufacturers either make Windows keyboards or generics. After quite a search, I found that Das makes a couple of them. They are most definitely not cheap, but they are about half the price of some of the competition and are very highly respected by the tech community. For those who’ve never heard of them, Das makes keyboards that have the distinctive key-click and overall layout found on older IBM keyboards from the dawn of the modern computing era. The tactile feedback of the key clicks and spacing of the keys makes them very finger-friendly for those of us who type a lot and want to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome; the theory being that the click causes your fingers to ease up on the pressure and not slam into the hard stop at the bottom of the key.

The Professional for Mac was the one I went with myself. The Mac-specific key layout and full media key support was exactly what I was looking for, and I have indeed found that typing stress is reduced when using the clicky keys. It also helps that they keyboard is wired – which is a major thing for me. I find no reason to use a wireless keyboard, as the travel distance of the keyboard on my desk is so small that any cord can easily accommodate me. So I don’t want to have to swap out batteries every week when the keyboard isn’t mobile in the first place on my desk.

This isn’t to say that they keyboard is without fault. There’s still no Dashboard or Spaces keys, but I can use Control + Right and Left arrow keys to flip between Spaces, including the Dashboard. The keyboard itself is also incredibly noisy, and can be heard when I’m on my telephone handset or headset as I clack away taking notes on the call.

I suppose, unless you’re ok with the native keyboard that came with your system from Apple, there will always be some trade-offs. The choice is between ergonomics at the cost of full hotkey functions; hotkeys but no ergonomic layout; or spending a ton of cash on a keyboard that isn’t really any better than the lower-cost alternatives in terms of build quality.

Experiment, ask for recommendations online and from friends, and if at all possible; try out a few in a store before you buy. See which combination of look, feel and functions you think will work best on your desktop. Remember, you’re going to be typing on this thing – a lot – for quite a while, so it’s best to find one that works for you instead of the other way around.

What is the big deal with Scott Forstall leaving Apple?

Late last week, Apple announced that Scott Forstall was leaving the company. Many newbies to Mac, iDevices, and Apple in general may not know what the big deal is. Well, here’s the story:

Scott Forstall was an integral part of the design team for many Apple products. Not all of his decisions, however, were well received by the general public. They were also not well received by other bigwigs at Apple either, which led to the current situation.

Forstall was a huge proponent of a design theory called skeuomorphism, which is – in short – application of physical-world textures to digital vision. Basically things like the leather texture and stitching on things like the iPad calendar and some of the icons (like Find My Friends) on other iDevices are a great example of this design philosophy. Textures and “look and feel” points from real-world objects (desk calendars and leather covers) are applied to purely non-physical concepts (digital calendars and icons). For some folks, the merging of the real-world and the digital world makes software more humanized and easier to relate to. For others, the “window dressing” takes up valuable screen real-estate and doesn’t offer any true benefit.

Until recently, most people had seen and used desk calendars and blank notebooks with physical covers to write things in at least at some point in their lives on a daily basis. Today, there is an entire generation who’s gone mostly paperless, and may not even relate to the skeuomorphic attributes of these software platforms at all. Yeah, they look nice, but they don’t add anything to the software for those folks and detract from the overall surface area that can be used for more important information.

Johnny Ive and most of the other Apple designers wanted to move in the direction of cleaner lines, with digital-focused interfaces that were recognizable both to people who worked on pen-and-paper objects and software. When the tipping point came, Ive’s group outnumbered Forstall’s group, and he was out the door.

Things also went south because Forstall was in command of the high-profile failures of Apple Maps and other mis-steps in iOS 6. The very public failure of those apps, combined with a power loss in his design philosophy meant his days with Apple were numbered.

So what does this mean for the average Apple gear user? Not a whole lot, overall, but many little things will change. Software on the Mac and iDevices will start to lose the little real-world texture touches we’ve seen over the years. That process started back with Leopard, but will become even more prevalent now. Lines will be cleaner, sharper, and more digital – with more useable screen space taken up by information and data, instead of leather and cloth textures.

Scott Forstall will be missed. Some of those skeuomorphic touches were quite beautiful, but in the end, cleaner lines and less window dressing will make devices more useable and functional. No one can debate that this is a good thing for Apple gear users.

No matter how you dress them up, bugs are still bugs.

Fried bugs

The iPhone5 has not escaped some rather major bugs on launch, and as much as Apple has tried to sugar coat – or outright ignore them – in some cases, they’re still pretty major bugs. Due Disclosure, I upgraded to the iPhone 5 and like it a lot, but I’m still going to talk about the problems it has – and how to work around them.

First, Maps: Let’s get that one out of the way up front. It’s been blogged to death, so I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that Apple truly screwed up on this one. You should not be trusting Apple’s Maps App to figure out where you are, or how to get where you’re going.

Workaround: Many other map apps are available on the App Store. I use Motion-X GPS Drive for turn-by-turn navigation, mostly because it does walking directions just as easily as driving directions. I also can recommend Maps+ with the (US)$2.99 in-app upgrade. This gives you access to Google Maps until Google finally releases their own native app for iDevices. You could also just wait a bit for Apple to update their own Maps App, but there’s no street date for that yet.

Exchange Calendars: Moving on, there’s a pretty massive issue with Microsoft Exchange Calendars. If you decline an invitation you get via your Microsoft Exchange account, there is a chance that everyone invited to that meeting will get a cancellation notice. Strangely – possibly bordering on bizarrely – this isn’t a new issue, and has existed since iOS 4 in one form or another. Short story, if the calendar event gets saved on both the iDevice and the Exchange Server, and then you decline, a software glitch lets the iPhone make believe you are the meeting organizer and process the decline as a cancellation of the whole meeting.

Workaround: None yet. Believe it or not, this isn’t only Apple’s problem, as the software glitch that allows it to happen stems from a problem with Microsoft Exchange not rejecting a set of instructions that it is supposed to reject, even though the iPhone sends them anyway. Microsoft claims the instructions are not allowed for mobile email clients and shouldn’t be sent, Apple claims that since the instructions are invalid, they should be rejected by the server. The fight won’t end soon, but a software update on either the Server or the iDevices may hit in a few months to fix it until the next version of iOS does it again. In the meantime, don’t delete or decline invitations from your iPhone or iPad, instead wait until you are on a desktop or Outlook Web Access client to send the decline. Handy-to-know hint: You can reply to a message containing an invite to say you will be declining it later.

Battery Life: Those of us coming from the iPhone 4 will be shocked when looking at the battery life (or lack thereof) on the iPhone 5. Those on the 4s will probably have gotten used to four to six hour battery life, but the 4 could go eight to twelve hours of moderate use before dying out (or 3-4 hour talk time as opposed to 5-6 hour talk time on the 4). After a couple of weeks using the 5 the same way I used to use the 4, I can definitely say that the battery life is drastically shorter. There’s a few reasons for this. First is the fact that the phone got slimmer and lighter, and a lot of any phone’s weight and size is battery space. Secondly, the processors and components of any new phone will be more power hungry than the slower ones of the previous versions. So if the size of the phone limits the battery tech to only growing by a factor of 2 from the previous version, and the power consumption goes up by a factor of 4 – well, the math isn’t good.

Workaround: There are a few things you can do to extend battery life, but still use your iPhone as an iPhone and not a ridiculously expensive iPod. Turn off LTE in settings. You’ll still get basic 4G speed, which is more than good enough for most web applications, but it will use far less juice to communicate. Secondly, keep in mind that you get better battery life when you have three or four bars of service than when service is poor (yes, even with WiFi connected). In short, this is due to the phone working to transmit the same amount of data over less bandwidth and also a continual hunt for a better signal going on behind the scenes. Granted, you have very little control over signal strength, but if your home or work is in a poor service area, just keep in mind that you’ll need to charge much more often. Finally, nearly any rechargeable USB power pack, combined with a Lightning cable or 30-pin cable plus Lightning adapter, can charge you up when you’re out and about.

Scratches and cable shortages. These are not specifically bugs, as they have nothing to do with software, but they’re weighing heavily on the minds of iPhone 5 owners.

Scratches to the screen and case are pretty common for any mobile phone. They get shoved in pockets and put down on any number of various surfaces. With the back cover of the iPhone 5, however, the scratches are even more likely, and some users have reported finding scratches on phones even before they take it out of the box.

Workaround: First, carefully examine any piece of electronics you buy as soon as you open the box. Return anything that arrives in less-than-perfect condition. To keep it looking new, use a skin or case. I’d recommend that even if you didn’t have a scratch-prone device, as you’re shelling out big bucks for this hunk of tech, and should spend a few more bucks to properly protect it. Gelaskins makes hundreds of differently-designed skins for all kinds of gizmos, including the iPhone 5. As a blogger/writer, my personal favorite is the Underworld design. Also, a thin shield-type case is a good idea, I go with the Caze brand cases, as they’re thin, light and strong. For those who want more protection, there are dozens of other types of skins/shells that can withstand quite a lot of abuse. Couple this skin/shell with a high-quality screen protector (available from just about any tech retailer) and you’re set against having your new toy scuffed up five minutes after you get it.

Lack of cables: Apple chose to change the charge/sync port designed from the long-suffering 30-pin design to the new Lightning port. This isn’t a totally bad idea, as Lightning is indeed much faster and takes up a lot less space in the phone itself. The problem is that every dock/device/cable you used before to connect your iPhone to something is now useless. There is another very real added problem here, namely the fact that Apple is running short of cables and connectors, itself. You see, the cables require some very tiny electronics to be incorporated into them during production, and the components are in short supply. Most ship times for the Lightning Cable and 30-pin to Lightning Adapter are at least 1-2 weeks out, and the phone only comes with one Lightning Cable. Lose the cable? Oh well, you can’t charge your phone anymore.

Workaround: Get in line now to purchase a couple of extra cables and adapters from Apple’s online store. Guard the one you have with your life for the two weeks it’ll take to get the replacements in your hands. Eventually, 3rd-party manufacturers will start cranking out cables, docks, devices, etc. with Lightning connectors, but that hasn’t started happening yet. Of course, if you’re in the European Union, or know someone who is/will be, you can buy a micro USB to Lightning adapter from Apple over there, making life a lot easier.

Hang in there, folks, Most things will get better in time. The bugs will get fixed with software updates (hopefully soon). The shortages of components for cables and lack of 3rd-party options will be resolved. The scratches are going to be here for a long time, but that’s a problem you can fix today with less than (US)$30.00 worth of protective gear.

Should you get the new iPhone?

Ah yes, another year, a new iPhone to buy. That’s pretty much become the mantra of Cupertino, but doesn’t answer the question of if you *should* buy it or not. I’ll offer my advice here.

Note: I have pre-ordered an iPhone 5 using the same logic I’m spelling out below.

First, what are you using now. If you’re on an Android, Blackberry, Symbian, Widows Phone or feature phone and want to move to the iPhone, then it makes sense to go with the latest model. Another great choice, however, would be to go to the iPhone 4S, as it will cost you much less and still runs the latest version of the iOS software and nearly all apps that are out there.

Verdict: Yes go for the 5, but if you’re looking to save money and don’t mind the smaller screen, go for the 4S instead.

Already own an iPhone? OK, then the question is “which one have you got now?”

3GS or earlier: It’s time to upgrade. These phones will soon be unable – or are already unable – to use iOS releases as they come out, which means you’re missing security and functionality updates. The 5 is the logical choice for you.

4: Definitely time to upgrade. While the iPhone 4 (which I have myself) is a great phone, it shows it’s age when running iOS 6. Apps can be sluggish, switching between them can be a frustrating lag-fest, etc.

4S: Wait. Unless you specifically need the bigger screen, there’s not a ton of benefit to going to the 5 just yet. The 4S has Siri, great battery life, works great with iOS 6 and is still 100% supported by Apple. So the better bet would be to hold the 4S for another year and then jump to the iPhone 6 (or whatever they call it).

Verdict: iPhone 4 or earlier, time to upgrade. iPhone 4S, hold off unless you need the bigger screen.

What’s new in the iPhone 5 is well documented on many other sites, so I won’t go into details on that now. What’s important is to really look at how you use your phone, what apps you need to run, and if you’re ready to swap out all of your sync/charge cables just yet. If you are on an earlier model (before the 4S), or if you need the bigger screen, then the 5 makes sense. Otherwise, opt for the 4S if you’re making the switch and want to save cash – it’ll still be useable and stable for at least another year or so. Go with the 5 if you can afford it and want to make the switch to a phone you’ll use for the next two to three years.

Make your voice heard, register to vote now!

In 2008, about 63% of eligible voters in the United States went to the polls.

That number should shock, outrage, and infuriate every single one of us, even though it apparently doesn’t. *One THIRD* of people who are eligible voluntarily decided not to vote.

Around the world, people are fighting and dying for the right to cast a vote in the leadership of their countries. They are waging wars and fighting battles just to get the chance to do what one-third of us don’t do, even though we have the right and the ability.

Stop, right now. If you’re not sure if you have registered to vote, sign up again. If you know you’re not registered, get registered immediately. You have to file your registration by October 6th in most states (individual state laws vary) so time is of the essence.

Once you’re registered to vote, figure out when to show up at the polls, and where. Your State’s official website will have links to where you can find your polling place, hours of operation, and phone numbers you can call with questions. One Google or Bing search can open the doors to your polling place, so no excuses!

If you’ll be out of town or out of the country, sign up for an absentee ballot. This will let you vote even if you cannot physically be in your polling place when Election Day rolls around.

Yes, it’s true that some lawmakers are trying to impose Voter ID restrictions on their constituents. It’s true that robocalls and black-ops tactics are trying to keep people away from the polls. Take the time, learn the rules, know your rights, and cast your vote. By the way, want to help make sure these lawmakers never get the chance to make this kind of law again (or want to ensure that they do)? Then only your vote can make that change.

Let’s do this, America. If we expect our politicians to represent 100% of their constituents, then the least we can do is ensure that 100% of eligible voters cast their ballots. You have a voice, you have the power to change the face of the country. It’s your right, your duty, and your privilege to cast your ballot and take control of your government. We don’t have to fight for it, we don’t have to do anything but check the box or pull the lever. Do not allow this election (or ANY election, for that matter) to pass by without your voice being heard loud and clear.

Because, in this country, no one can take that away from you… except you yourself.

Head over to to find out how to register to vote!