iFAQ: the complete iPhone question and answer

Below is a FAQ based on my first weekend of using an iPhone. It contains all the questions I had about the iPhone before I bought it, and everything that seemed worth mentioning after using it. If you have any additional questions, leave them in the comments, and I’ll get you answers as soon as I can.

Now let’s start with something easy:

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How to recover a corrupt Parallels virtual machine

Parallels is a very impressive piece of software, but it’s not quite ready for prime time. In addition to using it on two different computers myself, I know many other people who use it on a daily basis, and although it’s by far the best way to run multiple operating systems on an Intel Mac, it’s also full of problems. If you use Parallels on a regular basis on different networks, you are likely already familiar with the various networking and VPN quirks, and if you have been using it for long enough, you might have also discovered that virtual machines will occasionally become corrupt and refuse to boot. And if you have ever tried to get free email support from Parallels, then you have almost certainly discovered that they are unable to keep up with demand. Again, I want to stress that Parallels is a remarkable piece of software, and it gets better with each update, however if you’re using it for mission-critical operations, be sure to make frequent backups.

But if you haven’t been backing up your data, and you’ve run into the dreaded corrupt virtual machine problem, there is actually a relatively painless way to recover your data:

  1. Create a new VM. Configure it any way you want, and get it to the point where you are ready to install the guest OS (presumably Windows).
  2. Before installing the guest OS, edit the VM by clicking on the edit button, then click “Add…” beneath the property table.
  3. Click “Next”, then select “Hard Disk”, then “Use an existing hard disk image”.
  4. Browse to your previous virtual hard disk (the one with the data you want to recover) and choose “Finish”.
  5. Install the guest OS. Be careful not to install it on the virtual hard disk that you are trying to recover.
  6. When you boot into your new installation of Windows, open Explorer, and notice that your old virtual hard disk is mounted and that all your old data is accessible.

I’ve had enough problems with Parallels that I’ve stopped using it on a daily basis and have gone back to trying to get by in a Windows-centric world using nothing but OS X. I haven’t given up on Parallels entirely, however, and with every update, I give it a fresh chance since I still believe that if you absolutely have to run Windows, the best way to run it is as a Mac app.

Using an external display with a MacBook

Here are some tips for using a MacBook or MacBook Pro with an external monitor. They range from the painfully obvious (for brand new Mac users) to one I actually just learned yesterday.

  1. When you connect an external monitor to your MacBook (or PowerBook, for that matter), you can combine your MacBook’s LCD and your external monitor to create one big monitor. That means when your mouse pointer goes off the edge of one, it will appear on the other. Open the Displays Preference Pane to configure the resolution and orientation of the two monitors. This type of configuration works well when you want to keep your main work on your larger external display, but still keep things like IM, iTunes, and email constantly visible on the smaller laptop LCD.
  2. Some windows act like they don’t want to be dragged on to your external monitor. If a windows is being stubborn, try dragging it up to the menu bar, and keep dragging, even if stays stuck below the menu bar. Sometimes once you have dragged it far enough that it has room to render the entire window, it will jump to the other monitor (Terminal used to have this problem, but Apple fixed it some time ago). If that doesn’t work, try dragging it from a corner of your monitor. My Adium contact list doesn’t seem to want to live on my external monitor, but I can coerce it up there by dragging up from either corner.
  3. When your laptop is open, you can’t switch to using the full resolution of an external monitor. I have no idea why, but it’s a fact of life for MacBook users. You can use both displays in "extended" mode, or you can mirror your MacBook’s display (which most likely doesn’t use the full resolution of your external monitor), but you can’t switch to using only the external monitor. Very strange.
  4. If you close your laptop, you can actually get the full resolution of your external display. Put your MacBook to sleep, connect your external display and an external monitor, and wake the computer up by pressing any key. You will have full use of your external display while your laptop is closed.
  5. If you really want to have your MacBook open while only using an external display, after following the procedure above, you can open your MacBook, and it’s screen will remain off, which means you can still use the MacBook’s keyboard and trackpad. Why you can’t get into this mode using F7, I have no idea. This is a good technique for allowing some heat to dissipate while still using an external display so the lid of your MacBook doesn’t melt or warp.
  6. You can boot your computer using just an external display. Just connect your external display, open the lid, hit the power button, and close the lid again immediately.
  7. In order to output only to an external monitor, you have to have the power cable connected. I tried for several minutes yesterday to get my MacBook to wake up with an external keyboard and monitor before unpacking my AC adapter from my backpack, and it wouldn’t work. It took me a while to make the connection (no pun intended), but I eventually discovered that with the power cable attached, everything works as expected.

And now for some other random tips:

  1. If you decide to buy the MacBook over the MacBook Pro (I actually like the MacBook slightly better, but that’s a topic for another post), don’t forget to buy a mini-DVI to standard DVI adapter. The MacBooks don’t have standard DVI port — just the mini.
  2. If you have a DVI to VGA adapter, stop reading this right now, go find it, and put it in your computer bag where it should be stored. You’ll thank me the next time you’re in front of a client or an audience, trying to mash a VGA cable into a DVI port.
  3. For the ultimate in multiple-display, multi-computer support, check out Synergy. Synergy actually lets you switch between different computers running different operating systems simply by moving your mouse from one monitor to the next. The first time you see it, you’ll swear it’s magic. Imagine two separate physical computers next to each other with two monitors, one keyboard, and one mouse. Just move the pointer from one monitor to the other, and you’re actually using the other computer. It even let’s you copy and paste between computers. If you’re a Mac user running Parallels, you might not see the point, but you still have to appreciate the technical wizardry.

Anything that I’ve missed? Post it in the comments.

The best Mac I’ve ever owned

I’ve owned a lot of Macs. Two iBooks, one PowerMac, two titanium PowerBooks, two aluminum PowerBooks, one iMac, and now my first MacBook. Even adjusting for processor enhancements and other hardware advances, I think I’m ready to declare the MacBook the best Mac I’ve ever owned.

I agonized for days over whether to go with the MacBook Pro or the standard MacBook, and in the end, I opted for the more modest standard MacBook for the following reasons:

  • Apple finally positioned the ports on the MacBook on the left where they belong (unless you’re left-handed, of course). Not ramming my mouse into a thick black DVI cable approximately 3,000 times per day was probably worth the price of the MacBook in an of itself.
  • At 5.2 pounds, the MacBooks are the most portable of Apple’s Intel notebooks. Unless you plan on hiking the Appalachian Trail with your MacBook, though, you probably wouldn’t notice much of a difference between the 5.2 pound MacBook and the 5.6 pound 15″ MacBook Pro.
  • The battery life on the MacBooks is about as good as it gets. Up to 6 hours compared to 4.5 for the 15″ MacBook Pro, and 5.5 for the 17″. There’s an ancient Chinese proverb which states what one gives up in screen size, one gains in battery life (except in the case of the 17″ MacBook where Apple simply shoved a big enough battery into the case to compensate).
  • The new MacBooks use a magnetic latch as opposed to two tiny metal hooks to keep the machine cinched tightly closed. I don’t know about the MacPook Pros, but the PowerBooks had problems with their latches. I have a friend who has replaced his PowerBook latch with a piece of masking tape until he can get his hands on a new MacBook. As Apple has clearly learned with the iPod, the fewer moving parts, the fewer warranty repairs.
  • The MacBooks have new keyboards which initially come across more like rows of buttons than keys. Presumably Apple made improvements over the old keyboards (still in use on the MacBook Pros), however I’d be perfectly happy with either. I have noticed that the keys don’t come into contact with the screen when the machine is closed which used to do terrible things to the old PowerBook screens, however I believe that issues has been fixed since the aluminum models.
  • The standard MacBooks have plastic cases rather than the aluminum cases of the MacBook Pros. I learned from the iBooks that the plastic is either more scratch-resistant, or does a better job of concealing scratches. It’s also less prone to the warping that has been known to occur due to the excessive heat of some models.

Even though I love the standard MacBooks, there are several features that the MacBook Pros have that a lot of professional won’t be able to live without:

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