Handling camera raw images on old versions of OS X

I use Adobe Lightroom for most of my digital photography workflow but as our family takes more and more pictures on a variety of cameras, other family members need to process images – and I’m not letting them near my Lightroom catalogue!

As we tend to use iPhoto every year to product yearbooks, calendars, etc., the solution we decided on was for me to copy unprocessed images over onto an old Mac Mini, which is running OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) with iPhoto (still version 6, part of the iLife suite shipped with OS X 10.4, which was what originally installed on the Mini).

Old software doesn’t support raw formats

All seemed good until I we tried to import the the first batch of photos that I’d sent over. iPhoto was happy with JPGs but didn’t like the raw images (.NEF from my Nikon D700 and .NRW from my Nikon P7100). Apple’s advice on supported digital camera RAW formats for OS X 10.6 suggested that the D700 should be OK (presumably not with old versions of iPhoto – one forum post suggested I’d need at least iPhoto ’08) but that I needed to install the Digital Camera RAW Compatibility Update 3.9 for the P7100, which would also need me to upgrade to iPhoto 11 (v9.3.2). The iPhoto upgrade was no big deal (£10.49 in the Mac App Store)  but it will only run on OS X 10.7.4 or later.  Lion is no longer in the Mac App Store but OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) is (and it’s only £13.49). Unfortunately, Lion and Mountain Lion will not run on Core Solo or Core Duo Macs (like my Mini).

I refuse to buy a new Mac for this – the whole point of the exercise was to provide a fit-for-purpose solution using the kit we already have – and a new machine doesn’t come into that (heck, I might as well just put Photoshop Elements on my wife’s Windows laptop), so it was back to the drawing board.

If my combination of OS X and iPhoto won’t read my raw files, I’ll just need to batch convert them to something else first…

Compiling and installing dcraw on OS X

Dave Coffin’s dcraw is a Linux utility for raw file conversion and I decided to use that on the Mac Mini but it needs a bit of work to get it installed. I found a blog post that describes the process to get the latest version of dcraw working on OS X 10.7 (Lion) but the process is slightly different for earlier versions of OS X.

First up, I installed Apple’s developer tools – XCode.  These are found on the operating system DVD for OS X 10.6 (in the Optional Installs folder) but are a free load from the Mac App Store for 10.7 and later. I did register for a developer account and started downloading version 3.2.6 but then realised that it was a 4.1GB download and retrieving the DVD from the loft was easier. After installing XCode from the DVD, I updated to 3.2.6 using the OS X Software Update utility although other versions of OS X might have a slightly different XCode upgrade process.

The Unix Command Line tools are an install option on XCode 3.2.6 (they can be downloaded from inside XCode from version 4 onwards) but, once these were installed, the next step was to download and install MacPorts.  Again, there are different versions according to the release of OS X in use but I downloaded the .DMG for OS X 10.6 and then kicked off a Terminal session.

Once in Terminal, I entered the following commands:

su admin
sudo port install dcraw

following which MacPorts did all of the work to download and install dcraw and all of its dependencies.

Batch converting raw images on the Mac

With dcraw installed, there are many options for processing images but the basic syntax may be found by opening Terminal and typing:

\opt\local\bin\dcraw

Camera Hacker has some examples of dcraw use but I used the following commands to bulk convert batches of .NEF and .NRW files to .TIFF format:

dcraw -a -w -v -T *.NEF
dcraw -a -w -v -T *.NRW

One final tweak before import the files to iPhoto was to set the file dates to match the camera timestamp (without this, iPhoto seemed to think that the images were taken on the day they were imported):

dcraw -z *.tiff

The resulting files were ready to import to iPhoto for family use, with no risk to the master copies that are stored on my MacBook.

Force-ejecting a stuck CD or DVD on a Mac

Yesterday, I was trying to eject a CD from my MacBook but it wasn’t playing ball. There doesn’t appear to be a hole to force-eject the disk and the media eject key wasn’t doing anything. Neither was there an icon to drag to the trash so, according to Apple’s advice, I needed to reboot the computer.

Er… no… this is 2011 – reboots should be a last resort (even my Windows PC only get rebooted to apply updates once a month). Thankfully MacRumors has a much more extensive list of solutions to force-eject stuck CDs/DVDs.

drutil tray eject did the trick for me although why Apple can’t direct people to the command line in their own advice is anybody’s guess…

Using Windows to remove a Mac OS X EFI partition from a disk

The old hard drive from my Mac is destined to find a new role in my low-power server (hopefully dropping the power consumption even further by switching from a 3.5″ disk to a 2.5″ disk). Before that can happen though, I needed to wipe it and clone my Windows Server installation.

After hooking the drive up, I found that it had two partitions: one large non-Windows partition that was easily removed in Server Manager’s Disk Management snap-in; and one EFI partition that Disk Management didn’t want to delete.

The answer, it seems, is to dive into the command line and use diskpart.exe.

After selecting the appropriate disk, the clean command quickly removed the offending partition. I then initialised it in Disk Management, electing to make it an MBR disk (it was GPT).

Cloning my Mac’s hard drive to gain some extra space

My MacBook (bought in 2008, unfortunately just before the unibody MacBook Pros were introduced) has always been running with upgraded memory and storage but it was starting to creak.  Performance is okay (it’s not earth-shattering but all I do on this machine is digital photography-related workflow) and it won’t take any more RAM than the 4GB I have installed but I was constantly battling against a full hard disk.

After a recent holiday when I was unable to archive the day’s shots and had to start filling my “spare” (read old and slow) memory cards to avoid deleting unarchived images, I decided to upgrade the disk. I did briefly consider switching to a solid state solution (until I saw the price – enough to buy a new computer), then I looked at a hybrid device, before I realised that I could swap out the 320GB Western Digital SATA HDD for a 750GB model from Seagate. The disk only cost me around £73 but next day shipping bumped it up a bit further (from Misco – other retailers were offering better pricing but had no stock). Even so, it was a worthwhile upgrade because it means all of my pictures are stored on a single disk again, rather than spread all over various media.

Of course, no image really exists until it’s in at least two places (so I do have multiple backups) but the key point is that, when I’m travelling, Lightroom can see all of my images.

I didn’t want to go through the process of reinstalling Mac OS X, Lightroom, Photoshop CS4, etc. so I decided to clone my installation between the two disks.  After giving up on a rather Heath Robinson USB to IDE/SATA cable solution that I have, I dropped another £24.99 on a docking station for SATA disk drives (an emergency purchase from PC World).

I’m used to cloning disks in Windows, using a variety of approaches with both free OS deployment tools from Microsoft and third party applications. As it happens, cloning disks in OS X is pretty straightforward too; indeed it’s how I do my backups, using a utility called Carbon Copy Cloner (some people prefer Super Duper). Using this approach I: created a new partition on the new disk (in Disk Utility), then cloned the contents of my old hard disk to the new partition (with Carbon Copy Cloner); then test boot with both drives in place (holding down the Alt/Option key to select the boot device); before finally swapping the disks over, once I knew that the copy had been successful.  Because it’s a file level copy, it took some time (just under six hours) but I have no issues with partition layouts – the software simply recreated the original file system on the partition that I specified on the new disk.  There’s more details of the cloning process in a blog post from Low End Mac but it certainly saved me a lot of time compared with a complete system rebuild.

Now all I need to do is sort out those images…

“5 reasons to avoid Office 365?” Are you really sure about that?

It’s not often these days that I feel the need to defend Microsoft. After all, they’re big boys and girls who can fight their own battles. And yes, I’m an MVP but if you ask Microsoft’s UK evangelists (past and present), I’m sure they’ll tell you I’m pretty critical of Microsoft at times too…

So I was amazed yesterday to read some of the negative press about Office 365. Sure, some Microsoft-bashing is to be expected. So is some comparison with Google Apps. But when I read Richi Jennings5 reasons to avoid Microsoft Office 365 , I was less than complementary in my reaction.  I did leave a lengthy comment on the blog post, but ComputerWorld thinks I’m a spammer… and it was more than 140 characters so Richi’s Twitter invitation for constructive comments for his next post (5 reasons to embrace Office 365) was not really going to work either.

Picking up Richi’s arguments against Office 365:

  • On mobility. I’ll admit, there are some issues. Microsoft doesn’t seem to understand touch user interfaces for tablets (at least not until they have their own, next year perhaps?) so the web apps are not ideal on many devices. Even so, I’m using Exchange Online with my iOS devices and the ActiveSync support means it’s a breeze. We don’t have blanket WiFi/3G coverage yet (at least not here in the UK) so it is important to think about offline working and I’m not sure Microsoft has that sorted, but neither does anyone else that I’ve found. Ideally, Microsoft would create some iOS Office apps (OneNote for iPhone is not enough – it’s not a universal app and so is next to useless on an iPad) together with an Android solution too…
  • I don’t see what the issue is with MacOS support (except that the option to purchase a subscription to Office Professional Plus is Windows-only). I’m using Office 365 with Office for Mac and SharePoint integration is not as good as on Windows but there seems nothing wrong with document format fidelity or Outlook connecting to Exchange Online. I’ve used some of the web apps on my Mac too, including Lync.
  • Is £4 a month expensive for a reliable mail and collaboration service? I’m not sure that the P1 option for professionals and small businesses (which that price relates to) is “horribly crippled” either. If the “crippling” is about a lack of support, I left Google Apps because of… a lack of support (after they “upgraded” my Google Apps account but wanted me to change the email address on my then-orphaned “personal” account – and you think Microsoft makes it complex?)
  • Forest Federation is a solution that provides clear separation between cloud and on-premise resources. It may be complicated, but so are enterprise requirements for cloud services.  If that’s too complex, then you don’t probably don’t need Active Directory integration: try a lower-level Office 365 subscription…
  • As for  reliability, yes, there have been BPOS Outages. Ditto for Azure. But didn’t Google have some high-profile GMail outages recently? And Amazon? Office 365 (which was a beta until yesterday) has been pretty solid.  Let’s hope that the new infrastructure is an improvement on BPOS, but don’t write it off yet – it’s only just launched! Microsoft is advertising a financially-backed 99.9% uptime agreement

The point of Office 365 is not to move 100% to the cloud but to “bring office to the cloud” and use it in conjunction with existing IT investments (i.e. local PCs/Macs and Office).  If I’m a small business with few IT resources, it lets me concentrate on my business, rather than running mail servers, etc. Actually, that’s the sweet spot. Some enterprises may also move to Office 365 (at least in part) but, for many, they will continue to run their mail and collaboration infrastructure in house.

Richi says that, if he were a Microsoft Shareholder, he’d be “bitterly disappointed with [yesterday’s] news”. The market seems to think otherwise… whilst Microsoft stock is generally not performing well, it’s at least rising in the last couple of days…

Microsoft stock price compared with leading IS indices over the last 12 months

To be fair, Richi wasn’t alone, but he was the one with the headline grabbing post… (would it be rude to call it linkbait?)

Over on Cloud Pro, Dennis Howlett wasn’t too impressed either. He quoted Mary Jo Foley’s Office 365 summary post:

Office 365 is not Office in the cloud, even though it does include Office Web Apps, the Webified versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Office 365 is a Microsoft-hosted suite of Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online €” plus an optional subscription-based version of Office 2010 Professional Plus that runs locally on PCs. The Microsoft-hosted versions of these cloud apps offer subsets of their on-premises server counterparts (Exchange, SharePoint and Lync servers), in terms of features and functionality.”

Yep, that’s pretty much it. Office 365 is not about competing with Office, it’s about extending Office so that:

  • It’s attractive to small and medium-sized businesses, so that they don’t need to run their own server infrastructure.
  • There are better opportunities for collaboration, using “the cloud” as a transport (and, it has to be said, giving people less reason to move to Google Apps).

Dennis says:

“Microsoft has fallen into the trap that I see increasingly among enterprise vendors attempting to migrate their business models into the cloud: they end up with a half baked solution that does little for the user but gives some bragging rights. All the time, they seek to hang on grimly to the old business model, tinkering with it but not taking the radical steps necessary to understand working in the cloud.”

Hmm… many enterprises are not ready to put the data that is most intimately linked to their internal workings into the cloud. They look at some targeted SaaS opportunities; they might use IaaS and PaaS technologies to provide some flexibility and elasticity; they may implement cloud technologies as a “private cloud”. But Office 365 allows organisations to pick and choose the level of cloud integration that they are comfortable with – it might be all (for example, my wife’s small business) or none (for example me, working for a large enterprise), or somewhere in between.

Office 365 has some issues – I’m hoping we’ll see some more development around mobility and web app functionality – but it’s a huge step forward. After years of being told that Windows and Office are dead and that Microsoft has no future, they’ve launched something that positions the company for both software subscriptions (which they’ve been trying to do for years) and has the ability to host data on premise, in the cloud, or in a hybrid solution. “The cloud” is not for everyone, but there aren’t many organisations that can’t get something out of Office 365.

Removing crapware from my Mac

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been rebuilding my MacBook after an increasing number of “spinning beachballs of death” (the Mac equivalent of a Windows hourglass/doughnut/halo…).  Unfortunately, its not just PCs that come supplied with “crapware” – it may only be a couple of items but my OS X 10.5 installation also includes the Office for Mac 2004 Test Drive and iWork ’08 Trial.  As it happens, I do have a copy of Office for Mac 2008 but I don’t need it on this PC – indeed the whole reason for wiping clean and starting again was to have a lean, clean system for my photography, with the minimum of unnecessary clutter.

“What’s the problem?”, I hear you say, “isn’t uninstalling an application on a Mac as simple as dragging it to the trash?”  Well, in a word: no. Some apps for OS X are that simple to remove but many leave behind application support and preference files.  Some OS X apps have installers, just as on Windows PCs.

I ran the Remove Office application to remove the Office for Mac Test Drive and, after searching for installed copies of Office, it decided there were none, leaving Remove Office log.txt file on the desktop with the details of its search:

***************************
Found these items:
OFC2004_TD_FOLDERS: /Applications/Office 2004 for Mac Test Drive

It seems that, if you’ve not attempted to run any of the Test Drive apps (e.g. by opening an Office document), they are not actually installed.  Diane Ross has more details on her blog post on the subject but, basically, it’s safe to drag the Test Drive files and folders to the trash.

With Office for Mac out of the way, I turned my attention to the iWork ’08 Trial.  This does not have an uninstaller – the application files and folders for Keynote, Numbers and Pages can be dragged to the trash but there is another consideration – there are some iWork ’08 application support files in /Library/Application Support/ that may be removed too.

These resources might not be taking much space on my disk, but I don’t like the idea of remnants of an application hanging around – a clean system is a reliable system.  At least, that’s my experience on Windows and it shouldn’t be any different on a Mac.

A few things for digital photographers to consider before upgrading a Mac to Snow Leopard

If you use a Mac, the chances are that you’ve heard about a new release of the Mac operating system – OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard”.  I haven’t bought a copy yet, largely because I can’t really see any “must-have” features (increased security and improved performance is not enough – even at a low price), but mainly because I use my Macs for digital media work – primarily my digital photography workflow on the MacBook – and upgrading to a new operating system brings with it the risk that applications will fail to work (I already have problems with NikonScan on MacOS X 10.5 and 10.6 is likely to introduce some more issues).

If you are, like me, primarily using your Mac for digital photography then there are a few things, that it might be useful to know before upgrading to Snow Leopard:

I’m sure that I will move to Snow Leopard in time; however these notes may well be useful if you’re a photographer first and foremost and the whole idea about using a Mac was simplicity.  Don’t be fooled by the glossy cover – Snow Leopard may bite you – and, like all operating system upgrades, it needs to be handled with care.

Basic math lesson for American software companies

Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, et. al. please take note that the US Dollar price for your product multiplied at the current exchange rate, plus 15% value added tax (UK sales tax at today’s rate) is a lot less than the price you charge us for your software.

For example:

A 20-25% uplift is pretty bad (and the VAT will be back to at least 17.5% at the end of January 2010) but Apple and Microsoft are clearly not pushing this as far as they can… let’s look at what Adobe charges:

  • Adobe Photoshop CS4 is $699 in the States (which is £373.03, or £428.98 if we include the VAT) but, get this, Adobe charges us £615.25 – that’s almost a 45% premium… it’s a good job they’re offering free shipping at the moment if I spend more than £350.

Just to be clear, I didn’t deliberately pick the most expensive products to make software vendors look bad. These are the latest operating system releases from Apple/Microsoft and probably Adobe’s best-known product. No wonder the UK is the third-most expensive country in the world.

Hackintosh netbook revisited

Hackintosh Finder Icon by ~3ncA few months ago, I wrote about the installation of Mac OS X on my Lenovo IdeaPad S10e netbook. Whilst I was pleased to have a working installation of OS X there were still a few things that didn’t quite work as I’d have likef. This post details a few more tweaks I’ve made to the Hackintosh.

My S10e is a Hackintosh, rather than a Macintosh, so I replaced the standard Mac OS X Finder icon with the Hackintosh Finder Icon by ~3nc using LiteIcon.

I thought that the fans weren’t running as often as they had been under Windows… in fact I’m not even sure they were running at all. Furthermore, iStatMenus would only tell me the hard disk temperature so I wasn’t sure how warm the CPU was running, or how fasts the fans were turning. Thankfully, before I fried my netbook, a comment on this blog pointed me back to The Kitch and ultimately to a post on the Lenovo IdeaPad S Series Forums which linked to an updated version of AppleACPIPlatform.kext, which I then installed using Kext Helper. After a reboot, my fans have been running to keep the netbook cool(er), although it’s still pretty hot and I seem to have lost Bluetooth.

I had a play with a few options to scale the screen resolution; however the results were not really fantastic. I did eventually settle on using defaults write NSGlobalDomain AppleDisplayScaleFactor 0.96 to make the screen appear to be 600 pixels deep but some of the icons (e.g. the battery on the menu bar) were screwed up.

I also have a UK keyboard, so I followed Liquid State’s advice, using Ukelele‘s LogitechU.K.Intl.keylayout (copied to /Library/Keyboard Layouts and selected in the International system preferences) and then adjusting the modifier keys as described by Phil Gyford (alternatively, I could have swapped the Windows key and the alt key to keep them the same way around as on a Mac keyboard). Incidentally, Apple keyboards still have the ” and @ reversed (even with a UK layout) but at least with this configuration the labels on the keys matched the resulting output.

The biggest letdown was Ethernet connectivity. There was a project working on porting the Broadcom BCM57xx and 59xx Linux drivers to OS X but nothing is happening fast and it really seems to be one guy working with limited spare time and limited collaboration. Wireless is fine but wired Ethernet is more reliable (and often the only option in a hotel room) so this was probably the final nail in my Hackintosh’s coffin.

Now the S10 has been replaced by the S10-2 and Gizmodo reports that it’s not really suitable for hackintosh conversion. My Hackintosh was a fun experiment but ultimately I’m not finding it as useful as I would if it was running Windows. It’s not that there is anything wrong with Mac OS X but I use Macs for my digital media work and a netbook is not really the right computing platform for that. In addition, I’m missing out on things like reliable Bluetooth, sleep, and Ethernet connectivity – all of which I could get in a Mac… if I was prepared to pay the money. Let’s see if the Apple iPod tablet really does make it to market this winter.

In a few hours, I’ll take a final disk image of the Hackintosh for posterity and rebuild it to run the final release of Windows 7 (thanks to Microsoft for my complementary copy) – which is, after all, what I originally bought it for!

Turning off Adobe Photo Downloader in Mac OS X

I used to use Adobe Bridge with Photoshop on my Mac for all my image editing, until my friend Jeremy Hicks extolled the virtues of Adobe Lightroom to me. Nowadays, Lightroom forms the basis of my photographic workflow, with Photoshop CS4 called in to do any advanced editing, but all the basic stuff (raw image conversion, cropping, minor adjustments and filtering) is done in Lightroom.

Lightroom includes its own photo import tool, so I was getting annoyed when two downloaders popped up every time I connected a camera or memory card… eventually I found out how to turn of the Adobe Photo Downloader – there is a checkbox in the general preferences for Adobe Bridge.

General Preferences in Adobe Bridge

I’ll still need to use something else for video files (as the Lightroom importer only recognises images) but 95% of what I shoot is photos and there’s still the option of using the Image Capture program that ships with OS X for video on those devices that are not recognised by the Finder (e.g. my Canon Digital Ixus 70).