Mac OS X is coming soon, and there's much more to it than the Aqua interface. This week Chris Pepper looks at Mac OS X's Unix foundation. And if a digital camera is on your gift list, Arthur Bleich offers advice about essential accouterments like printers, batteries, and memory cards. In the news, Nisus Software releases Nisus Writer 6.0.1 (including 68K support and the TidBITS AutoCorrect Dictionary), and we ask you to vote in our poll on how TidBITS should cover product announcements.
Nisus Writer 6.0.1 Offers 68K, TidBITS Glossary -- Nisus Software has released Nisus Writer 6.0.1, a minor upgrade to the company's powerful word processorShow full article
Nisus Writer 6.0.1 Offers 68K, TidBITS Glossary -- Nisus Software has released Nisus Writer 6.0.1, a minor upgrade to the company's powerful word processor. Users of 68K-based Macs will be pleased that a 68K version of Nisus Writer is now available, and the free upgrade also includes a version of the TidBITS AutoCorrect Dictionary as a Nisus Writer glossary. You can now turn Navigation Services on and off, and a bug that prevented selection of file formats from the Save dialog box using keyboard shortcuts has been fixed. Other changes include some bug fixes to the Nisus Table Tool to improve menu functionality, optimization of the HTML documentation, and additional stationery files to act as templates for new documents. The complete version of Nisus Writer 6.0.1 (necessary if you don't yet have Nisus Writer 6.0 or want the 68K version) is 25.5 MB and the updater from the PowerPC-only version 6.0 is 10.8 MB. [ACE]
by Geoff Duncan
Quiz Results: Lord of Your Own Domain? Last week's quiz followed up on ICANN's endorsement of seven new Internet top-level domains (TLDs) by asking which of the following domains - .org, .cc, .mil, .web, .um, .is, or .biz - was not an existing domain or one of the seven new TLDsShow full article
Quiz Results: Lord of Your Own Domain? Last week's quiz followed up on ICANN's endorsement of seven new Internet top-level domains (TLDs) by asking which of the following domains - .org, .cc, .mil, .web, .um, .is, or .biz - was not an existing domain or one of the seven new TLDs. Just over a third of the quiz respondents knew the correct answer - .web - but even more respondents thought the answer was .um, which is the established (though little used) top-level domain for the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands, including Wake and Midway in the mid-Pacific. We may yet see a .web domain - it was proposed to ICANN by multiple applicants, and could be approved in the future - but it doesn't exist yet. Only eight percent of the quiz's respondent's thought .biz didn't exist (even though it's brand new) while fourteen percent thought .cc - the domain for the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, in the Indian Ocean south of Sumatra - didn't exist, despite its wide (some would say opportunistic) promotion by its registrar as an alternative to the .com domain. [GD]
by Geoff Duncan
Poll Preview: On Releases and Announcements -- We'd like to get your opinion about the types of product news you see in TidBITS. Traditionally, TidBITS covers products only when you can download or purchase them, rather than when they're initially announced by companies, which can be months before they're availableShow full article
Poll Preview: On Releases and Announcements -- We'd like to get your opinion about the types of product news you see in TidBITS. Traditionally, TidBITS covers products only when you can download or purchase them, rather than when they're initially announced by companies, which can be months before they're available. We developed this practice to avoid cluttering readers' minds - and our issues - with information about vaporware and products which didn't yet exist (and in some cases would never exist). Announcements almost universally tout products as the best in their categories and often omit information such as system requirements, availability dates, and pricing, which makes writing about the products difficult, especially since we can't evaluate the quality of the product or say whether new features are useful or work as they should. Conversely, knowing what products companies plan to release can be useful. Should you invest in a third party add-on for one of your main applications if the next version should be out soon with a similar feature? If a program is currently discounted, should you buy copies for your company before a new version comes out? Will a product soon add a feature you need, or should you cut your losses and switch to a competitor now? Visit our home page and let us know your feelings about whether we should cover products when they're first announced or when they actually ship! [GD]
If you've ever tried to put together a good audio-video system, you know the angst that goes with it. Even with an unlimited budget, you have to make hard choices between this amplifier and that receiver and those speakersShow full article
If you've ever tried to put together a good audio-video system, you know the angst that goes with it. Even with an unlimited budget, you have to make hard choices between this amplifier and that receiver and those speakers. The same applies to digital cameras - they're only a part what we call digital photography. Look at your first digital camera purchase as just a component in a larger system, the capture component. But, if you're like most people and want prints of your digital pictures, the output component is equally important because without it, the images printed from best digital camera will disappoint you. Plus, you'll want to think about batteries, more storage space, and just how you'll be transferring images from the camera to your computer.
From Input to Output -- So, along with choosing a digital camera, choose the right printer, and right now the best photo printers are made by Epson - period. I'm uninterested in getting into a religious war along the lines of the Mac versus PC debates, but suffice to say that Epson is my pick, and a good Epson printer should be the first item on your digital camera budget. There are two basic lines, the Stylus Color and the Stylus Photo, and the primary difference is that the Stylus Color printers print in four colors, whereas the Stylus Photo printers print in six colors. The more colors, the better the photos, which also benefit from smaller ink droplet size - 4 picoliters is better than 6 picoliters. However, ignore high resolution figures (above 720 dpi) on printers; they are not always true indicators of print quality. The price you'll pay often reflects print speed and number of interface options; just make sure to match those to the amount you plan to print and to your current (and future) computer system.
I'm partial to the Epson Stylus Photo 870 and the wide-format 1270 because they give gorgeous prints at high speed. The $250 Stylus Photo 870 is the biggest bargain in six-color inkjets on the market today. But if that's too much, look at the four-color Stylus Color 777 which has 4 picoliter droplets and matching iMac color choices for under $100. You can compare specifications on the many different models on the Epson Web site.
I'm familiar with the "fading" flap about ozone and possibly other airborne elements that are causing the light cyan ink in the Stylus Photo 870 and 1270 to take a premature hike resulting in "oranging" of the print. But this has been much overplayed. Take it with a dash of light magenta: most users have never experienced the problem and besides, only prints on Epson's Premium Glossy Paper seem to have faded, and Epson has now reformulated that paper. [Remember too that you're printing a digital photograph - since it's digital, you can always print additional identical copies. -Adam]
Recharge It! Once you have resolved the printer problem, it's time to add other elements of the system. If you read digital camera newsgroups and other forums, you're bound to read something like, "I really like this camera but battery consumption sucks!" or words to that effect. It's as if the new purchaser expected NASA-level performance out of a crummy set of alkaline AA batteries (yes, the particular poster I had in mind did). This unfortunate situation occurs because most digital camera marketing mavens think consumers won't buy the product if they were to say: "We've put a set of drugstore batteries in here to get you started, but you'll have to spend a few bucks more for rechargeables."
The smart manufacturers slip in rechargeable NiMH (or in a few cases, lithium-ion) batteries and a charger and defuse the issue from the beginning. But if your new digital camera comes only with standard sizes of alkaline batteries, just buy a Quest Premium Gold Battery Charger (it comes with four batteries), and four extra batteries and be done with it. The Quest charger monitors each battery individually, does a fast charge in just a couple of hours followed by a controlled trickle, and you can leave the batteries in the charger for as long as you'd like- they're always topped off and ready to go when you are. As an added advantage, it includes a 12-volt DC plug that lets you use the charger while driving.
Store Those Images -- Along with battery life (the reason to have an extra set of batteries), the other factor that will limit how many images you can shoot at once is the size of your memory card. There are three basic types of memory cards: Compact Flash, SmartMedia, and Sony's proprietary Memory Sticks. Most digital cameras come with small (commonly 8 MB) memory cards, and particularly if you want to shoot at the highest resolution offered by your camera, you'll fill that puppy up with a mere handful of shots. Trust me, you'll want at least one more memory card, but choose 64 MB or under because, like eggs, you don't want to put all your shots in one basket. Several smaller cards are better than one humongous one. The camera you choose generally dictates which type of card you use, but it may be worth keeping in mind that SmartMedia cards, although the smallest, are sensitive to static electricity because their contacts are exposed. Compact Flash cards are more common, usually less expensive, and come in larger sizes. Sony's Memory Stick cards are also relatively inexpensive but limited to use with Sony products right now. You'll have no trouble finding retailers that sell memory cards, but it can pay to shop around.
Image Transfers -- Finally, there's the question of just how you plan to move images from the camera into your computer. Many people worry about whether or not the camera supports USB (or serial connections, for older Macs), but it's not as big a deal as you might think. Everyone I know hates using USB because you have to plug a cable into the camera, then the other end into a USB port, and then fiddle around with a camera that sits in front of your computer. Here's how the sophisticated photographers do it. They buy a digital camera based on the features they want, whether or not it has USB. Then they get a Delkin or Microtech International USB multi-card reader that reads Compact Flash, Compact Flash II, and SmartMedia cards. When they want to transfer images, they pop the memory card out of the camera and into the reader.
And if you primarily use a PowerBook that supports PC Cards, you can buy inexpensive adapters from companies like Microtech or Unity Digital into which you insert the memory card. Then, when you pop the adapter into the PowerBook, it shows up like another disk, so it's not only easy to work with, it doubles as a RAM disk if you need to transfer files to another PowerBook.
If you don't yet have an extra memory card, look for bundles that provide a memory card and some sort of card reader - it can be cheaper than buying them separately.
What's the cost of these digital camera components? Less than $500 for the printer, rechargeable battery package, extra memory card, and USB or PC Card reader. You don't need all these items right away, but those five bills will save you so much grief, you'll smile every time you use the components.
[Arthur H. Bleich is a photographer, writer, and educator who lives in Miami and is Feature Editor of Digital Camera Magazine. He has done assignments for major publications both in the U.S. and abroad, and conducts Digital Photography Workshop Cruises for Zing.com (where he is right now). TidBITS readers can participate in the Zing Digital Photography Workshop-at-Sea between 03-Dec-00 to 10-Dec-00, where pictures taken by and of the class will be posted each day at Zing.com, where they'll remain through January. Log in with zingcruise2000 as your member name and zingcruise as your password. Arthur also invites you to click in to his Digital PhotoCorner to read a complete guide to buying your first digital camera - TidBITS will also have more on that in next week's issue.]
by Chris Pepper
With Mac OS X, Apple is building Unix into the Mac OS, and this has technical, social, and political ramifications for Mac users and the rest of the industryShow full article
With Mac OS X, Apple is building Unix into the Mac OS, and this has technical, social, and political ramifications for Mac users and the rest of the industry. To understand the implications of this change, let's take a look this week at the Unix family of operating systems and how they constitute a part of Mac OS X. In the next part of this article, I'll address how the fusion of these two operating systems will impact not only Mac and Unix users, but the computer industry as a whole.
Unix 101: The History of the Machine -- In the beginning (or as far back as we want to go), there was Unix, which was originally developed at AT&T's Bell Labs. In many ways, Unix grew up in symbiosis with the C programming language, which became an important facet of its underlying philosophy - that programming is good for you. (For more information, see some of the resources provided by Dennis Ritchie, one of the creators of C, as well as an interesting timeline of the history of Unix). In sharp contrast, the Macintosh was revolutionary because of Apple's concept that computer users could be insulated from the underlying workings of their computers, and not have to be programmers. Apple's vision of the Mac OS was as a system for managing a computing appliance, whereas Unix was published as a research project with an open invitation to tinkerers.
Over time, various companies and individuals contributed to Unix, each under their own licenses, some of which required payment for use. Several companies, most notably Sun Microsystems, licensed Unix to use as the basis of their own operating systems to run on their own computer hardware. There are now hundreds of derivatives of the original Bell Labs Unix. A crucial point in the development of Unix came when AT&T sued the University of California at Berkeley to halt distribution of Unix systems without paid licenses from AT&T, but the suit failed. After the settlement, Berkeley released the free and redistributable 4.4BSD-Lite (BSD stands for "Berkeley Software Distribution"), which contained no AT&T code and no licensing restrictions. The current BSD flavors of Unix - NetBSD, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, BSDI, and now Apple's Darwin - are all descendants of BSD-Lite.
During the 1980s, Richard Stallman formed the Free Software Foundation (FSF) to write a completely compatible Unix replacement, free of restrictive licensing requirements. In rejection of these licenses, the FSF created the GNU General Public License (GPL), which requires licensed software to be freely redistributable, and has a "viral" clause requiring that derivative works also be licensed under the GPL, and thus freely available and modifiable. The GNU (which stands for "GNU's Not Unix") project was highly successful in creating powerful tools, such as the ubiquitous gcc compiler and gzip compression program, now considered standard parts of Unix environments. The GNU operating system kernel, known as Hurd, is still under development.
Linus Torvalds began the Linux project with a similar goal: to develop a free Unix-compatible kernel for Intel PCs, without license encumbrances. To ensure that Linux would be free, it was also licensed under the GPL. An operating system kernel isn't useful by itself, so Linux distributions combine Linux kernels with other free GNU and non-GNU components to build complete operating systems. Thus the FSF's goal of a free Unix-like operating system was attained, though not quite as its founders expected.
Linux is generally portrayed as a better, faster, and more stable server alternative to Windows NT/2000. In contrast, BSD Unix rarely crops up in casual conversation, but its users consider it better and more stable than relative newcomer Linux. A number of high-profile Web sites, such as Yahoo and MCI, apparently share this conviction and rely on BSD-backed Web servers.
The Mac OS X Layer Cake -- Although Apple is introducing Unix to millions of Mac users through Mac OS X, you don't need to start memorizing Unix commands to use it (in fact, you'll have to work to see the Unix command line at all). However, it will be helpful to have a working knowledge of how Unix fits into the inner workings of your Mac.
Think of Mac OS X as a three-layer cake, borrowing its basic recipe from the NeXTstep operating system, leavened with components of Mac OS 9. The lowest level is derived from Carnegie Mellon University's Mach microkernel research project, which interacts with the hardware and helps different parts of the next level up communicate with one another, and the BSD kernel, which provides facilities such as networking, device drivers, and file systems - HFS+ and UFS (Universal or Unix File System) are included in Mac OS X. Within Darwin, the second level is a fairly standard Unix environment, including tools ranging from the ls program that lists files and the cp program that copies files, to the aforementioned gzip and the Apache Web server. These two layers are available now from Apple, packaged together as the free open source Darwin operating system.
Darwin is a fully capable Unix-like operating system on its own, but it's limited in comparison to the Mac OS. In particular, Darwin lacks graphics capabilities entirely - in a typical Unix system those would be provided by the X Window System, but Darwin can only display text on the connected monitor. Apple has released Darwin as open source, so people with recent Macs who want to run BSD-style Unix now have another free option (projects such as OpenBSD and NetBSD also support many Macintosh hardware configurations). Darwin has already drawn some attention in the computer industry, but it's mostly relevant for Mac users, since several mature BSD options for Intel-based PCs already exist. It remains to be seen whether people will actually use Darwin as an independent product, but it may find popularity on slightly older machines or in dedicated server environments.
Confusingly, Apple uses the name Darwin for several related projects which have different releases but the same source code: the self-contained Darwin operating system package and the bottom layer of Mac OS X. Direct access to Unix applications on a Mac OS X system is entirely optional, which makes the system much more palatable for Mac users who prefer to avoid Unix. But double-clicking the Terminal program included in Mac OS X Public Beta invokes a command line, giving full access to Unix functionality, just like logging into a machine running the free Darwin operating system.
The second and third levels of the Mac OS X layer cake, not included in the free Darwin package, are the proprietary code that makes it a Macintosh operating system with a graphical interface: the QuickDraw and Quartz graphic environments that programs use to draw to the screen and the whole set of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that enable Macintosh programs (as opposed to Unix programs) to run. The main APIs in Mac OS 9 are collectively called the Macintosh Toolbox. Mac OS X includes a much larger set of overlapping APIs, due to its hybrid Unix/NeXT/Apple heritage.
Classic applications rely on the venerable QuickDraw for display of text and graphics. Carbon applications can use Apple's new Quartz display engine, but QuickDraw remains available to them as well, and so they'll probably stick with QuickDraw as long as developers want to provide a single application file that can run under both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. Cocoa applications rely entirely on Quartz, which is based on Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF), and provides improved capabilities for print and layout. In addition, Mac OS X also provides OpenGL and QuickTime, which may help availability and performance of games and scientific computing software for Macs.
Macintosh programs that can run under Mac OS X come in three main flavors: Carbon, Classic (existing Mac OS 9 programs), and Cocoa. New and updated programs which use Carbon are full-fledged Mac OS X applications and take advantage of Mac OS X's protected memory and preemptive multitasking. Current programs run under Mac OS 9 within the Classic environment, providing compatibility with existing software. And Cocoa programs rely on a set of APIs originally derived from NeXTstep, so Mac OS X can run NeXTstep-derived programs.
The frosting on this layer cake is a new graphical design for Mac OS X, called Aqua. All Carbon and Cocoa applications in Mac OS X use Aqua, which specifies larger text and buttons, heavy usage of anti-aliased text and transparency, and a new set of design guidelines for windows, menus, and other interface elements. As a result, Mac OS X applications are prettier and livelier, with correspondingly increased demands on processor power and screen size. Specifically, Mac OS X effectively requires a minimum screen resolution of 800 by 600 pixels, while Mac OS 9 was usable at 640 by 480 pixels. (Also see "A Quick Dip into Aqua, the Mac OS X Interface" in TidBITS-513.)
Okay, let's see if we can put it all together - this diagram may look more like a game of Hack than a layer cake, but it should give you an overview of where everything fits. Remember there's no graphical environment under BSD Unix in Darwin.
| (Platinum) | (Aqua) | | (Text) | +-------------+----------+---------+ +------------+ 3 | Classic | Carbon | Cocoa | | BSD Unix |\ +-------------+----+-----+---------+ +-----++-----+ \ 2 | QuickDraw | Quartz | || (Darwin) +------------------+---------------+---------++-----+ / 1 | Mach+BSD kernel |/ +---------------------------------------------------+
To continue our analogy, the Mac OS X Public Beta available now includes candles on the cake - user applications (both included with Mac OS X and installed by users), which use either the Platinum (Classic) or Aqua appearance, depending on the APIs to which they're written. Bundled applications include the Finder/Desktop, Internet Explorer, Mail, Sherlock, System Preferences, an MP3/CD player, and others. The whole installation provides approximately the same feature set as Mac OS 9, but as you'd expect in a beta, some of the new components are more primitive than the mature ones from Mac OS 9. The best example of this is the new Dock, which replaces Mac OS 9's Apple and Application menus and desktop, but doesn't offer the same level of flexibility as the older tools in Mac OS 9.
As a Macintosh system, the most obvious changes in Mac OS X are the visual interface - Aqua - and the file system layout. The underlying system is already more stable, but this is a less obvious change. Classic Mac developers are beginning to move their software to Carbon, and as they do so they will begin to take advantage of Carbon's new capabilities and advantages. For those interested in exploring further, there's a wealth of new territory. NeXT developers are quickly moving over to Mac OS X, and adapting their applications for Cocoa. Darwin's Unix environment provides a whole new range of capabilities, particularly in the areas of networking and programming. This is foreign ground for many Mac users, but the potential is considerable.
In the next installment of this article, I'll talk about how the computer industry stands to be affected by Mac OS X's merger of an underlying Unix structure with the qualities that make a Macintosh.
[Chris Pepper is a systems administrator in New York, and he's just delighted that his "personal" Mac workstations are now running Unix like the servers he coddles for a living. Check out his Mac OS X Software and Information site for more on Apple's new operating system.]