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Ask TUAW's triumphant return from abroad


This, my friends, is the triumphant return of Ask TUAW -- everyone's favorite Mac and iOS Q&A and advice column. Unfortunately, a giant beaver ate all of the questions from prior editions of Ask TUAW, and we need more new questions!

So, here's what we need you to do: go to the comments of this post, think long and hard about which burning questions have been bothering you about your Mac, iPod, iPad, iPhone or AppleTV, and ask away! You can also email your questions directly to ask [at]

Here are a few perennial favorites asked and answered:

Q: Which MacBook Air should I buy?
A: Get the 11" if you have another computer, or the 13" if it's your primary machine. Order the BTO memory upgrade, too; you can't upgrade the RAM after the fact.

Q: What's the best way to sync my iPhone to multiple computers?
A: The only way to win is not to play -- syncing to more than one computer is asking for trouble, honestly. Pick your most accessible machine with the best storage situation for your media and applications library, and sync to that one. If you need to shuffle content around or purchase apps on multiple machines, go with Apple's Home Sharing to keep things synchronized.

So, head down to the comments at the end of this post, and do your best. When asking a question, it makes life a lot easier for the Ask TUAW team if you include what type of machine you're using, which version of Mac OS X you're running or, if you're asking an iPhone/iPod/iPad question, let us know which generation device and which version of iOS you have -- though, in general, you should always upgrade to the latest version if you can.

We've got a few questions left in the can from last time, so let's get cracking.

Dave asks:

I am seeing terrible performance from Finder when trying to access a Windows share over a VPN. If I do an 'ls' or 'cd' command to get to the same files, everything is instantaneous. Is there some setting in Finder that will make it act more like the 'ls' done via Terminal?

I have looked at a lot of Finder replacements and they all appear to have the same problem. Given this works great on Terminal, I'm a bit stumped at what Finder can be doing that would slow things down so dramatically.

Hi, Dave! Thanks for the question. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be very helpful on this one. To be brutally honest, the Finder is not the fastest remote file viewer -- in fact, it's pretty abysmal. Finder's performance accessing remote drives, especially SMB shares, is poor, to put it mildly.

There are lots of possible fixes, but none are guaranteed to work. Finder in Snow Leopard's remote file browser has a ton of unnecessary overhead and is very, very slow. As far as Finder replacements go, for remote browsing, I would take a look at ForkLift, which we liked a lot in our review last year.

I wish I had better advice for you. Good luck!

Andrew writes:

I was wondering whether there are any negatives to upgrading an existing machine to a new operating system? I've always heard that when a new operating system comes out, it's better to get a new machine with the operating system on it, rather than upgrading a current machine to the new operating system (I had always heard this in regards to PCs, not Macs).

Is this true, or just an urban legend? I ask because I have a 2010 MBP, and I want to upgrade to OS X 10.7 when it comes out this summer, but want to know if there are any negative consequences to doing so.

With recent editions of Mac OS X, you don't have to erase the computer or buy a new one in order to upgrade it. That's a relic from the Windows world.

Update: As our commenters have pointed out, Snow Leopard did away with an explicit "Archive and Install" option. Instead, all installations of Snow Leopard over an existing version of OS X will simply upgrade them. This streamlining of the installation process was a feature of Snow Leopard and presumably will continue in Lion. Give Apple's installation PDF regarding Snow Leopard installation a quick once-over, but the short version is:

  1. insert the Mac OS X Installation disk.
  2. Click install.
  3. There is no step 3!
The Mac OS X installer includes several options during installation. From Apple's support website, the first option is "Upgrade," which is what most users who are currently running Snow Leopard should chose when Lion comes out.
Upgrading to Mac OS X is the least intrusive way to install -- most of your existing settings and applications are left untouched during an upgrade. In other words, you won't have to configure a lot of settings afterward.

The second option is best if you are having issues with your currently installed version of Mac OS X. It's called the Archive and Install. This option will install a "fresh" system on your Mac, but it keeps all of your files intact.

Archive and Install installations require the largest amount of available disk space because you need to have room to preserve your existing System and the new one you are installing. This is a good choice if you've already backed up your important files and are trying to resolve an existing issue. Mac OS X-installed applications, such as Address Book and Safari, are archived, and new versions are installed in the Applications folder. For a list of which files are archived, see this article.

Some applications, plug-ins and other software may have to be reinstalled after an "Archive and Install." Fonts that were installed in the Fonts folder in the top-level Library folder can be installed in your new system by copying them from the Previous System folder.

The final option for Mac OS X installation is Erase and Install. This option completely erases your hard drive and installs a fresh copy of Mac OS X. You should only use this if you have backed up everything on your computer, because it will erase every file that you have. Updated: To do this, erase your drive with Disk Utility on your Mac OS X install disk and then install a fresh copy of Mac OS X normally.

In general, just do a standard upgrade, unless your computer isn't running smoothly -- in that case, do an Archive and Install, which will preserve your applications and should allow you to roll forward smoothly. If you do go for the full monty of an erase and install, be sure to keep track of all your software installations and serial numbers (which you should be doing anyway, and you did back up using Time Machine, right?), as you may need to redownload/reinstall some apps (unless you bought them all from the Mac App Store).

Finally, Nolan asks a question about iPhoto versus Aperture.

I have iPhoto '09 and the App Store preview indicated I could get iPhoto '11 unbundled from the $49 iLife '11 for only $15. I excitedly waited and now that it is here I see Aperture 3 is $79. Which is better and what is the real difference?

I have about 14,000 photos and about 7,000 from a recent trip to Europe that I am still struggling to organize and go through. A lot are just duplicates I shot (mainly with an iPhone) and other cameras. I have lots of cleanup and rating and organizing into different mini trips and sight seeing and such. I also am having a bit of a performance problem scrolling through all the events I have in iPhoto.

Aperture is Apple's pro photo management tool, competing with Adobe's Lightroom and other pro apps. The boxed version was $199, but Apple slashed the price when it launched the Mac App Store. It was a great piece of software for 200 bucks, but it's a steal at $79.

The two biggest differences between iPhoto and Aperture are in photo/library management and photo retouching.

For you, the biggest advantage of Aperture is the ability to sort your photos into hierarchical folders, projects and albums, much like the Finder. For someone like you, with 7,000 photos from a recent trip to sort through, Aperture may give you deeper organizing and sorting options than iPhoto.

The other significant advantage to Aperture is the ability to retouch and polish your photos. It's not going to give you editing abilities like Adobe Photoshop. Instead, Aperture lets you retouch photos with a fantastic "detect edges" feature, and it includes tons of presets to polish up your photos and make them look their best.

I'd recommend heading to your local Apple Store and playing around with Aperture on one of the demo machines in order to get some hands-on experience. If you want to try before you buy, there's a 30-day free trial, too!

You can start getting your feet wet with Aperture via Apple's tutorial videos (including a handy how-to on moving your library from iPhoto to Aperture) but the best way to learn the ins and outs of Aperture is through Apple's One to One training program. It can get you 365 days of training on your Mac, including everything you need to know about Aperture. It's only available with a new Mac, but if you tell them you're interested in purchasing and learning Aperture, they might sell it to you anyway. You can also check out online training options, in-person courses, books, Aperture tip sites and more.

Good luck!

That's all for today, folks. Remember, we can't answer questions without you asking them. Put your questions in the comments of this post, or shoot us an email at ask [at] Of course, if you have a better answer than the ones we came up with, we'd love to hear them, too!

Have a great week, and we'll be back soon.

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