Monthly Archives: September, 2006

Mojopac on the Mac?

There’s a lot of interest in Mojopac at the moment – a piece of software which lets you carry a complete Windows environment around on an iPod or other storage device and use it – your entire Windows world, desktop, applications and all – on any XP PC you happen to plug it into, alongside the already-running OS. Here’s a video of it in use.

Part of the interest is that nobody seems to know quite how it works underneath. There’s a ‘How it works’ page on the website which really doesn’t tell you how it works at all. Is it a full virtual machine? That seems the most obvious, and if so, they’ve done quite a nice job of getting it to run without an installer.

But I’ve seen comments to the effect that there isn’t a copy of Windows in the Mojopac you carry around, which would suggest that it must be running the OS that’s on the host machine. So is it making use of Windows’ fast user-switching combined with some kind of chroot environment? The Windows registry tends not to be so easily switched around… Who knows…?

Anyway, I started wondering how easy this would be to do on a Mac. In one sense, Mac users have always had it easier because you can generally put applications anywhere and run them from anywhere. So if you keep your documents and your favourite apps on a portable drive you can plug it into any Mac and usually get a lot of work done. But it’s not your own environment; you’re running as somebody else unless you have a login on that machine, and things like your email configuration won’t be there. If you DO have a login on the machine then you can also get it to use the portable drive as your home directory, and your environment will then be there when you login, perhaps using the fast user switching on the Mac.

Or you can reboot and use what, for me, has always been one of the most valuable aspects of the Mac: its ability to boot and run entirely off external drives. That’s proved incredibly useful on a number of occasions, especially when my own machine has died and I’ve been able to borrow somebody else’s, use my whole world as normal, be upa and running again in a few minutes, and return the system untouched to its owner at a later date.

None of these is quite the ‘walk up to any machine’ scenario that Mojopac are claiming, though.

It did occur to me that I might put a copy of Parallels Desktop on a drive, along with a virtual machine image, and simply plug in the drive and double-click the image, at least on Intel machines. But, understandably, Parallels is one of the few things that really does require an installation, so unless it’s already present on the machine, this doesn’t work either. And besides, wonderful though Parallels is, the one operating system you can’t run under it is Mac OS X, so for the user experience would always be sub-optimal!

If my friends at XenSource have their way, virtualisation capabilities will soon be de rigueur on every OS; it’ll be something you switch on, rather than having to install. Most new Linux distributions have some support for Xen out of the box, for example, and I’m experimenting with it under Fedora Core 5 on one of my web servers, which now appears to the outside world to be 5 machines. Very neat. It’s going to be a while before Xen has anything like the ease of use of Mojopac or Parallels. We’re only just getting to the point where you can probably install it without recompiling your kernel.

But if the XenSource strategy of getting their Open Source core ubiquitously deployed on all x86 machines succeeds, then it’ll be much easier for people to create Mojopac-type systems in future. Until then, I take my hat off to the Mojopac guys, if it really works as advertised.

X-ray vision

From The Dilbert Blog

I think the worst super power you could have would be x-ray vision…

If everyone had x-ray eyes, you would hear sentences that you’ve never before heard, such as:

“Let’s take a break. As you can see, my bladder is pretty much topped off.”

A handy utility

Those of us who love the command line can be keen to point out its advantages over pure GUI-based programs. “Imagine you want to rename a hundred files”, I have been known to say, “to change photo001.jpg to old_paris_photo001.jpg, etc…”

Now, the truth is that, while it would be a real pain to do this in the Finder, it isn’t exactly trivial on the Unix command line either. Which is why I think there’s a room for a utility dedicated to renaming, especially when it’s free, and as nicely implemented as Renamer4Mac. You drop the files onto the window, choose from a variety of filename modifications, and it shows you what the new names will be – a big advantage. Then you just click the button and you’re done.

Renamer screenshot

It can also install itself as a contextual menu plugin, so you can select files in the Finder, right-click on them, and choose “Rename with Renamer4Mac…”

Thanks to the MacBreak vidcast for the link.

Another holiday snap

…from my recent trip to the Pyrenees.

Val d'Azun


Regular readers will know that I was hoping for some update to Apple’s Aperture software to be announced today. And sure enough, Aperture 1.5 will be a free upgrade later this week, with lots of nice new features.

As always with Aperture, there are video tours and tutorials including one which shows you what’s new in this version. (Here’s a direct link to that movie.)

Skype video for Mac

Skype betaThere’s now a 2.0 beta version of Skype for the Mac, which includes video chat.

Almost everybody I know is on AIM, so for regular IM chatting I use iChat, with the occasional audio or video link to other Mac users. But Skype has always been better at getting through firewalls than iChat, and this could make it a better video solution, especially if the quality is as good as iChat.

Slipping through security

Manka Johnson has a few interesting thoughts on airport security. Like the fact that, while you aren’t allowed to take water on board, you are allowed to take KY jelly. Mmm.


Warning – geeky post

I often configure SSH so that I can log in from one machine to another without typing a password. Those who have done it, though, will know that this takes a few steps and it’s easy to make mistakes.

I wrote a little script to help, and found I used it rather often. So with due humility I offer sshput to the world in the hope that others might also find it useful.

Playing with the big boys

On Thursday, the Bush administration committed $3bn to projects tackling climate change issues. The following day, Richard Branson did the same.

Neither of these gestures is exactly philanthropic in nature; both Sir Richard and the United States of America need to find alternative fuels, and realise that heavy investing in this area probably makes long-term economic sense. But, as someone who can’t even afford a Prius, I can’t help thinking that it must be nice to wake up and think, “America’s doing this. Maybe I’ll do the same thing.”

Car Karma

I like Claes-Frederik’s ideas on a way to reduce road-rage and make traffic more friendly.


A Japanese animation which outlines the life of a “typical salaryman”. It only takes 30 seconds. If you just watch it once, that is…

Thanks to Garr Reynolds for the link.


Hamachi looks interesting. It allows you to create a VPN – a private network – between arbitrary groups of friends or co-workers, and join or leave it simply by clicking a button.

Normally, I detest VPNs. They’re a good idea in theory – make you look as if you’re on your office network when you’re somewhere else – but my experiences of them at three different organisations has not been good. Fortunately I’m geeky enough to find alternative solutions using things like SSH, VNC, SFTP and WebDAV, which generally have performed much better. These days, though, if you have many mobile workers, it can be better to put your company services out there on the internet (with appropriate security measures, of course) where they can be accessed from your own network and from elsewhere.

However, more peer-to-peerish solutions like Hamachi could be very useful if, say, you want to back up your mother’s PC or print on your brother’s printer. As well as Windows support, there are console versions for Mac and Linux, and a new version with a GUI for Mac OS X.

Disclaimer – I haven’t tried any of these. Just an interested observer.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser