Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Apple wins! Apple wins!

I saw an article on Ars Technica today about how two very large lobbying groups in France and Germany have joined with a few E.U. nations in pressuring Apple to "open up" FairPlay, their DRM scheme. Apple is, predictably, telling them to pound sand.

I'm just this guy, right? But I'm going to say that if this actually happens, the DRM wars are basically over and Apple won. Other music player manufacturers might or might not license FairPlay, and other content creators might or might not embrace FairPlay, but that would pretty much be the end of other DRM schemes. The music world would be split into FairPlay v. unencumbered without any real space for third alternatives. If you can get your music onto iPods, wouldn't you? If you're telling yourself that the only reason people are buying iPods instead of your player is because they're locked into iTunes but you could get around that legally, wouldn't you? And once you've made that jump, whichever camp you were previously in, why would you absorb the expense in time and money of maintaining whatever the other DRM scheme was?

That's just my take on it, you know. I'm not an MBA or anything.

Fun with networked storage

So Kathy's been playing "Sims 2" and "Ceasar IV" on the Windows computer, which is now an old and creaky 2.0GHz P4 instead of a shiny new multi-core box. Stuff breaks and so forth, and I'm no more fond of dorking about with hardware and screwdrivers than I've ever been. After much hemming and hawing, I broke down and embraced the heresy that is running Windows XP on the iMac. Part of this catalyst was stumbling across FreeNAS(pops) and reading its feature list.

Step 1: free up a bunch of disk space

Apple's BootCamp will cheerfully repartition the drive to allow Windows XP and OS X to coexist, but disk space must be available. A quick check showed we had about 35GB in iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie/iDvd/.dmg movies. "I know ... I'll set up a network attached storage (NAS) box", which immediately gave me two problems (thanks, JWZ!)

I dug into the box of not-yet-discarded computer-y bits to see what I had handy. I had an AMD computer, which was Kathy's gaming rig before the iMac arrived, and found a 300GB hard drive. I burned the latest FreeNAS drop to bootable CD and fired it up.

For reasons known only to them, the FreeNAS authors decided that "install this product" would be choice #7 in the menu. Hmph. Anyway, I told it to install onto the hard drive in two partitions: one smaller bootable partition with the freenas bits on it, and put the rest of the drive in a second partition for use. It installed and then wanted to reboot.

It didn't reboot. "DISK BOOT FAILURE INSERT SYSTEM DISK" it said. Grr. After much whacking the machine with sticks and such, I finally guessed that the system was old enough that it didn't want to boot from a hard drive that was bigger than 127GB (that being the new limit of "big drives", I guess). I dug back into the box o' parts and found an 80GB drive. Set up the 80GB drive as the IDE 1 master and the 300GB drive as IDE 1 slave and powered up.

Nothing. Grr. I hate hardware. This is why I'm in software development and not IT; poking about inside the computer innards is evil. I cursed a bit more, then threw away the 80GB drive and found a 13GB drive instead. Set up that as the master and powered up. It booted to CD! Yay me!

Chose option #7 again to install to the 13GB drive, then rebooted. This time it actually booted from the hard drive and was working. I set it to get an address via DHCP, which it did, then all was wonderful and I could remove the keyboard, mouse, and monitor and shove the thing under the table and forget all about it.

Step 2: Set up the connections

FreeNAS supports SMB/CIFS (just like everybody else in the world), but it also support AFP, which the iMac likes better. FreeNAS also speaks Rendezvous/Bonjour, so it was a piece of cake to mount the volume so the iMac could see it. A little more search-fu and I found how to tell the iMac to mount the share whenever Kathy logs in, so she won't have to remember (or even know how) to mount the thing. Yay FreeNAS!

Step 3: Move the data

As I mentioned, we have about 35GB of music, movies, and pictures. I applied my previously-mentioned search-fu and found how to move the iTunes music folder and how to move the iPhoto library. (As an aside, if you hold down "option" while starting iPhoto, it will ask you where the library is so you can repoint iPhoto before deleting your library). The iMovie/iDvd/.dmg files I just dragged to the new location.

Step 4: Take a backup

This might should have been step 3, but since I didn't delete anything from the local hard drive yet it works out about the same.

Step 4.1: Backup iTunes

Backing up your stuff in iTunes is really pretty simple since there's a menu option to do backups. I set the checkboxes to do a full backup to DVDs and then just switched disks when told to.

Step 4.2: Fail to backup iPhoto

I was already in the habit of burning a copy of all my pictures to CDs at the end of the year, so I just needed to do the 2006 pics. I fired up iPhoto, selected those pictures, and clicked "Share | Burn". It asked for a blank disk, so I put in a blank CD. It said there was like 5GB of pics for 2006 and refused to burn the album.

WTF? Just split the files across two DVDs, you piece of crap! How hard is this going to be? "Impossible," it turns out. "You're the first person EVAR!!!! to want to do that," iPhoto continued. Jeebus farking christ on a pogo stick. Really? First person ever? That's seriously f*cked up, Apple.

Step 4.2.1: Look for a better backup program

Since I have such faith in my search-fu skills, I'm forced to believe there isn't a backup program that will do what I want (burn the pictures from 2006 to a set of disks). Apple's own "Backup" program only works if you have a .Mac account. Silverkeeper won't write to DVDs (as far as I can tell). Toast might work, but I wasn't going to spend $80 to find out it wouldn't. I tried Disco (cool smoke, by the way), but it created six coasters for me and no backups, so I quit trying.

Step 4.3: Find a work-around

So, back to iPhoto and its stupid stupid "Share | Burn" choice. I inserted a blank DVD and starting selecting chunks of my 2006 pics to see when I got close to the disk capacity. Finally, that worked. I got my backup onto two disks which I promptly put into the fire-resistant safe with the other disks.

After the backup finished, I looked at the disks and saw that iPhoto stored not just the pictures themselves, but their original selves (before any Photoshopping) plus all its directory structure guff. If my time had been completely worthless, I probably could have dorked around another six or ten hours and gotten just the "after" pictures themselves and saved a whole blank DVD.

Step 5: Lose power

Our neighborhood lost power last night. This morning Kathy powers up her iMac and the NAS doesn't mount. She doesn't particularly care because she just wanted to check her email, but my obsessive-compulsive disorder kicks in and I have to know RIGHT KNOW why it didn't work. It turns out that it didn't work because I'm two kinds of idiot: (1) I'm the kind of idiot who didn't set the NAS to turn itself back on after a power failure, so I had to go push the power button myself, and (2) I'm the kind of idiot who sets a network resource to get its IP address via DHCP so, unless I get luckier than I have any right to expect, when it comes back up it won't have the same IP address as it used to have.

Right. So I go back and correctly configure the NAS to have a fixed IP address. Since I'm not completely disfunctional, I had set aside an address range from the DHCP server so I actually had an IP address available for the NAS. Little "yay" for me. One more reboot, and the NAS is up with a fixed IP address. Reconfigure the iMac to mount that share instead of the other one, and I'm good until the next crisis.


FreeNAS is working well so far, and plays well with the iMac. Most of my problems arose from trying to do all of this without spending any money at all, and from not being a computer gearhead in the first place.

Future Directions

Anyway, my next planned adventure will be actually installing Windows onto the iMac so Kathy will finally have a smooth gaming experience uninterrupted by pointless crashes.

For my adventure-after-next (or possibly the one after that), I'm looking around for a box that will boot from USB (so I can boot from a USB thumbdrive thereby freeing all four internal IDE channels to hang big honking disks) at a low low (low) price, plus a bunch of 500GB drives so I can build this out into a more permanent network fixture.

I will also be purchasing an AppleTV box at some point, at which time I'll probably rip all the DVDs to disk so I can stream them onto my teevee without having to touch the DVDs themselves. I'll definitely do that with the kids disks as they otherwise abuse the media so badly I have to replace the movies far more often than necessary.