A replacement for iTunes?

This post starts from this paragraph in an earlier post on my personal blog

“How might I integrate my digital music in a better way than I was currently doing it via the Apple TV, and iTunes on the MacMini? The answer … a Sonos Connect system with RCA output to the Marantz amp connected to the iTunes Media folder and a copy of the iTunes Library hosted on a USB-3 disk connected to an AirPort Extreme router. [The master iTunes Library is shared (using Dropbox) around the other 3 Macs in the house – a brilliant solution to avoid maintaining different iTunes Libraries.] I can now listen to the digital music in all three rooms.  Of course, now I have a Sonos Connect, I can stream to other Sonos Play speakers … but that’s for another day, which may actually come sooner rather than later.”

… which formed the subject of my discussion with the Cardiff U3A Digital Group on the 4th January. But I digress … what is the problem with iTunes?

iTunes was introduced shortly after the first iPods as the way/means by which you could store/search for your music on your brand-new revolutionary personal digital music device. And there you have the problem almost defined in a nutshell. It was “enhanced” to add other media to it – video, TV, film, podcasts; and you could synchronise your device to a computer so that the database work could be done on a more friendly device; and with the introduction of the iTunes Store – the focus has switched to selling music and storing it in Apple’s iCloud. But it’s huge problem is that it’s old, and it’s personal – tied and linked to single portable devices. You have more than one device – you have to synchronise them separately unless you rely on playing from iCloud – and the options here are very confusing; you have more than one playlist – you have to copy them to different devices; you want to have all your media in one place – you have to make sure you have your iTunes settings correct otherwise you’ll never know where the media your playing is actually stored.

So the link in the quote above provides an ingenious solution if you want to create a shared iTunes Library when you have more than one device you want to reference a single iTunes Library from. It really does work, and I’ve used this solution for a few words, and until recently I had little trouble from using this method, using my MacMini as the main computer for doing the sync’ing with my iPhone etc. However, after that episode I began to think there must be a better way.

I really didn’t want to use Spotify because that would only serve me music, and in any case most of the music I wanted to listen to, I already had and had transferred from CD to digital.

I researched whether I needed to buy more hardware, decided I didn’t, and opted to install Plex on my MacMini, with the media stored on an external USB-Disk. Doing this meant that I could continue using iTunes as well as the Plex Media Server as it looks at the same disk and media folders. And the advantages?

Well the most remarkable is that after purchasing a Plex Pass (the server itself is free) I can access any of my purchased and stored media – films, videos, music, photographs – from anywhere – wherever I am, on any device I have installed the Plex player app – including my Apple TV. It can operate over wired, WiFi and cell connections (if enabled). Isn’t that amazing? Plex is also moving towards streaming its own, or licenced content and offering a LiveTV service. Please read the Wikipedia article for more information.

It really is very easy to setup!

Getting to grips with Google Photos

It really is rather surprising that given the widespread adoption and use of Google Photos, that I can not find a sensible, easy to read, introductory guide on how to use it. Perhaps it’s because it’s so easy to use? Well, it is – up to a point. That point being how it works alongside Google’s other cloud-based software, ie Google Drive and Backup and Sync, and the now defunct and disconnected Picasaweb – where your photos are still accessible in your Google Archive.

So this note is an attempt to set out what you can do with Google Photos using images obtained on your phone or tablet, or uploaded from your camera’s SD card. It will principally work from the principle that you’ve taken the photos, you want to upload them to your laptop or desktop (PC or Mac) and then want to work on them there using a web browser. That is not an essential workflow, you can do everything on your mobile device – if that’s where the photos are, even down to editing the photos using Google’s Snapseed application for iOS, or Android devices, it’s just the approach I’ve taken here. So if you want to do everything on your iPhone/iPad or Android device you can learn how to use Snapseed on iOS here, I believe the application is nearly the same on Android.

To avoid duplication of effort however, here is an article that you should read first. It covers nearly all the features of the device apps, and the web browser version, and in particular handles some of the editing functions available, but it doesn’t cover the intricacies and peculiarities of the Backup and Sync tool which replaced the Google Photos Desktop Uploader and Google Drive Client tools last year; it doesn’t cleanly explain the relationship between Google Photos and Google Drive, especially if you’ve chosen to create a Google Photos folder inside My Drive on Google Drive; and most significantly, it doesn’t cover the recent decision by Google to remove the Google Photos tab/icon from the Google Drive browser-window interface.

So … how do you get photos into Google Photos? This Google article tries to explain how you can use Backup and Sync to do that. How does Google Photos work with Google Drive? This Google article attempts to explain how. Confused, I thought you would be! This is what I’ve done, why I’ve done it and perhaps most importantly how I do it!

Sometimes, it’s best to work backwards from Google’s most recent announcement because in doing that you can be reasonably sure you’ll be moving in the right direction … forwards! So, their announcement that the Tab for Google Photos in Google Drive is about to disappear takes on a certain importance. Google is attempting to separate Photos from Drive and encourage users to deal with them separately. It’s a continuation of the separation which started when Photos was spun out of Google+. To continue to see your Google Photos in Google Drive, you need to create a Google Photos folder in My Drive.

This you do from the Gear wheel > Settings in your browser. After doing this you will get a notification that your photos will appear in due course in a Google Photos folder in Google Drive. You can tell they’re not the same when you look at the document I’ve already mentioned (above) – How Google Photos works with Google Drive.

So to me, it’s a no brainer. I won’t use the Google Drive interface as a means of working with my Google Photos. It’s just one level of complexity, and a level of potential duplication, removed. On my system therefore, the box (above) remains unchecked and I don’t have a Google Photos folder in My Drive, on Google Drive.

So how do I get my photos into Google Photos? From the iPhone/iPad (or any other smartphone that has the Google Photos app) it’s quite straightforward.

From the menu iconchoose Settings, enable Backup & sync and then make decisions as to the quality of the images, and when they’ll be backed up (uploaded). I have opted to use the free storage option, and for them only to be uploaded when connected to a WiFi network. The reasons for this are that my main photo software is K=Lightroom and I have a different method of working with that. What I want to use Google Photos for is essentially sharing albums with family and friends.

From my desktop/laptop it’s almost as straightforward. I connect the camera by USB cable to the computer, or insert the SD card from the camera into the SD card reader in the computer and I will be prompted with this message …

 

They should then get uploaded to Google Photos and (as I’ve chosen NOT to have a Google Photos folder in my Google Drive), the images can be found in my Google Drive as an entry under USB Devices & SD cards, which remains even after I’ve disconnected the SD card from the computer.

So there you have it. I’ve disentangled Google Photos from Google Drive; I’ve used Backup and sync to upload photos to Google Photos and I’m now ready to edit photos, create albums and share images through Google Photos.

[By the way in deleting (after copying to another location, just to be on the safe side) my Google Photos folders from my Google Drive, I not only reclaimed a heck of a lot of space, but I also removed a lot of duplicated photos.]

Finally … if you were a user of Picasa and Picasaweb, your photos are still accessible. What you can, and cannot do with them is recorded in this Google Help document. You can still download and use the PC or Mac Picasa desktop client for editing your pictures and if you want a simple photo-editing tool to get started with, it’s a good place to start, but, it is no longer linked to Google Photos (or Picasaweb). [Cardiff U3A Computer/Digital Group members can download it from our Google+ Community Page] However, there is a workaround! When you save an image that you’ve edited in Picasa, you can save it to a folder that will then be automatically scanned by Backup and Sync and thus uploaded to Google Photos.

[NB Only those who attended my two sessions on Google Photos will actually understand why I included the really uninteresting image at the top of this post – I’ll leave the rest of you to ponder on what could possibly be the reason 🙂 ]

 

Beware the free upgrade

So … we’re all excited about the advent of iOS 11 for our iPads and iPhones aren’t we? Or we are if our devices can actually take the new operating system. And there’s the first challenge. Apple gives us free upgrades to its operating system software but it comes at a price in terms of the pensioning off of some hardware from ongoing support.

So, if you don’t have any of the hardware on the list below … stop reading this post and go and do something constructive.

So what’s wrong with iOS 11, nothing of course, it looks like a really feature-rich release with lots of goodies to enjoy and reports seem to suggest that it doesn’t slow down your device significantly … except it’s a wholly 64-bit operating system. This means that all applications that you run on the device must be written in code that runs on a 64-bit operating system, and the problem is that quite a few of your applications, even some you really like, may have been written using older 32-bit code. You may even have noticed some alerts coming up on your screen to say “contact the developer” when you’ve been running an application – that’s the reason for the alerts – your app is potentially going “end of life”. So … before you do the automatic upgrade just do these checks.

Goto Settings > General > About and you will see something like this …

… click on Applications, and something like this will be shown …

… read the warning message at the top of your screen carefully. What it is saying is that these apps are written in 32-bit code and will tend to run slower than if they were written in 64-bit code. What is more, they will stop working with iOS 11. Then clicking on any of the apps shown on your iPhone (similar to the ones above on my iPhone), will give you this screen message which effectively says that the app is end-of-life UNLESS the developer provides a 64-bit version.

Now most of these apps on my iPhone I can probably do without but I do know that I ought to approach Cardiff Bus to find out when their 64-bit version of the Timetable and Journey Map is going to be released, as I use that a lot!