iPad meets IT - Three tools you need

Cool IT-oriented products for insidious Apple devices

Many of my friends hate Apple. They hate Apple's arrogance and the way the company manipulates the market. A great example of what they despise: Apple recently kicked out all book reading apps other than its own nice-to-look-at-but-not-well-featured-and-doesn't-handle-enough-formats book reader, otherwise called iBook.

Even so, Apple's iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad) are wonderful gadgets. There's an undeniable polish and sophistication to Apple hardware and software engineering that makes these iThings delightful to use. And even if you don't like them, it's probable they are relentlessly creeping into your IT environment (and probably into your own pocket as well).

I've been looking at cool IT-oriented products for these insidious devices and this week I've got a few tools that may be useful to you.

My first pick is SugarSync, a powerful file synchronizer and backup system that can sync multiple devices on multiple platforms that includes not only iOS-based devices, but also devices running Windows, OS X, Android and BlackBerry OS.

SugarSync private Web interface

SugarSync performs synchronization in the background and transfers are done using 128-bit AES encryption. There are no file transfer size limits, you can view all of the files that are backed up and synchronized using a private SugarSync Web page (over HTTPS), and the service includes automatic versioning with up to five previous versions being saved (and only the current version counts toward your account storage quota).

The client-side apps are free and SugarSync will give you a free account which allows for 5GB of synchronized and backed up files. Charged-for accounts start at $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year for 30GB of storage.

SugarSync also offers a multiuser account option which is where the enterprise IT angle comes in: You get centralized user management, granular access control and user quota management.

Pricing for SugarSync for Business currently starts at (these are introductory prices) $29.99 per month or $299.99 annually for 100GB of space for up to three users.

Being able to simply, easily and securely transfer documents between your iOS devices and all of your other laptops and desktops with enterprise features is a fantastic productivity aid and, for users, a lifesaver when they need to recover a document they've managed to screw up.

Mocha VNC brings VNC to iOS

Next up is an iOS version of one of my favorite tools, VNC, called Mocha VNC (I last wrote about VNC a decade ago!).

Based on the well-known open source tool, VNC (which stands for Virtual Network Computing) is a remote desktop viewing application. Mocha VNC implements the same functionality on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Mocha VNC uses the standard VNC protocol with encrypted password sign-on, supports 8- and 32-bit color modes, local Mouse support, zooming and scrolling of the remote screen, landscape mode on iOS, Wake on LAN, NETBIOS and Bonjour names, works with RealVNC, TightVNC, UltraVNC on Windows and Apple Screen sharing (which is included with the Mac OS X).

Actually, accessing an OS X machine with Mocha VNC is outstanding. It's fast and you can configure Mocha VNC to sense the iOS device's accelerometer so that, for example, shaking your iPad will toggle the visibility of the on-screen Mocha VNC control buttons while tipping the iPad will scroll a zoomed-in screen!

There's a free Lite version which works great but for serious IT use you'll want the full version which adds keyboard banners with ALT, CTRL, Option and Apple keys, full mouse support, dragging, right click, hover and wheel, and a CTRL+ALT+DEL key. All that for just $6!

To end with, I have a product that is crucial to all IT people.

You know what it's like after a grueling week in the IT salt mines having spent 50 or 60 hours toting that virtual barge and lifting that bale of cabling? When it gets to the weekend and all you want to do is kick back and maybe cook a little barbeque (although if you live in the northeast of the U.S. you might have to do this indoors for a few more weeks).

But how to combine barbeque and tech?

Sure, you could invest in something low tech like the BBQ Guru Pit Bull 25 CFM blower which, if you're trying to create a nuclear inferno to roast a whole ox, will be fantastic. But I'd guess, my friend, that you'll probably want something a little more relaxing.

Why not throw, say, a boned leg of lamb stuffed with garlic and rosemary on the Weber and kick back? But you won't want to be jumping up and down taking its temperature every few minutes to ensure its culinary perfection. Nope, you need high tech.

The iDevices iGrill

Enter the iGrill. Priced at $99.99, this is a temperature probe that you poke into whatever you're cooking and, via a battery-powered transceiver connected to the probe by a 48-inch heatproof cable, it can talk to your iOS device (Android support will be forthcoming) by Bluetooth (the range is claimed to be up to 200 feet).

The iGrill iOS app

While the iGrill transceiver can work witchout an iOS device, the magic happens on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad: Using the free iOS iGrill app you can see the current temperature (or temperatures if you have two probes), set a timer, set temperature thresholds, and even see a graph of the temperature(s) over time.

The iGrill transceiver also has a display built-in so you can use it without an iOS device, and you can add a second temperature probe and toggle the display between them.

I have two minor problems with the iGrill. First, the user interface could do with a little more polishing, it's a little "clunky" and it's not obvious on an iPhone or iPod Touch that you swipe the screen to view the temperature dial and timer.

The other issue is the iGrill transceiver doesn't seem to like more than one "pairing", and switching between my iPad and iPod Touch seemed to confuse it to the point where I was taking batteries out of the iGrill, telling my iOS devices to forget the iGrill pairing, then re-pairing, then taking out the batteries again ...

There appears to be something not quite right about the iGrill's Bluetooth, but as long as you don't keep switching iOS devices, which most people won't, you should be fine.

So, now, after a hard week in IT you can kick back, crack a beer, play Angry Birds, and not have to move until the iGrill display on your iThing tells you its time to eat. Outstanding. I'll give the iGrill a rating of 4.5 out of five!

Gibbs is hungry for tech in Ventura, Calif. Your menu of your favorite iThing apps to gearhead@gibbs.com.

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Mark Gibbs

Network World
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