iCal Alerts You Can't Miss
Did you miss that tiny little iCal alert dialog? Use a more prominent Open File alarm.
First save an image, text file, sound, or movie that will really fill your screen and grab your attention.
Select an iCal event and choose Open File as the alert type. Choose your unmissable file as the one to open.
Set more alerts with more files to open for the same event if you like. You won't miss an appointment with one of these alerts!
Much of this week's issue revolves around cellular communications, with Glenn Fleishman covering Vonage's odd apps for the iPhone and iPod touch and Microsoft's data-destruction debacle for T-Mobile Sidekick users. Glenn also explains why AT&T's recent about-face with regard to allowing voice-over-IP apps to work over cellular data connections makes business sense for the company. TidBITS contributor Kirk McElhearn also rejoins us after a long hiatus with an in-depth look at the forthcoming international version of Amazon's Kindle ebook reader. But we also have two articles about the Mac from guest writers: Lewis Butler explains Mac OS X's hidden single-application mode, and Christian Voelker relates his experiences getting an old Apple LaserWriter 630 Pro working via Snow Leopard. Notable software releases this week include Epson Printer Drivers 2.1 for Mac OS X 10.6.1, iPhone OS 3.1.2, and Nisus Writer Pro 1.3.1.
Vonage has released calling apps for the iPhone and iPod touch, which are restricted to cheap, fee-per-minute outgoing VoIP calls placed to countries other than the United States. Surprisingly, the iPhone version can use a cellular voice connection when Wi-Fi isn't available.Show full article
The Internet telephony service Vonage has released mobile applications for the iPhone and iPod touch, which is less like a modern voice-over-IP (VoIP) program than an automated method of using a calling card to avoid a carrier's international charges. Vonage uses Wi-Fi for handling calls for the iPod touch and iPhone, and can also place calls over an iPhone's cellular connection.
Vonage's normal hardware-based Internet telephony service routes all calls over a broadband connection, lets you assign one or more phone numbers for incoming calls, and allows calls to any phone number in the world. Vonage also makes a "soft phone" - a computer VoIP client - with similar features.
The free Vonage mobile apps are far more limited. No inbound calls. No connection to an existing Vonage account. And no domestic calling over Vonage's network, even on the iPod touch, which has no cellular option. The app is currently available only to U.S. iPhone customers; it's unclear whether the company will expand availability to Canada and the UK, where it also operates its Internet telephony business.
This is in stark contrast to Skype for iPhone and iPod touch, which currently works only over Wi-Fi. The Skype app allows incoming calls and can place calls to any public switched telephone network (PSTN) number in the world - domestic or international - or to other Skype users. (See "Skype Coming to iPhone," 2009-03-30.)
The difference appears to be because Skype relies only on Wi-Fi, while Vonage can work in a strange but seamless way over a cellular voice connection, too.
Limitations in both Skype and Vonage Mobile may disappear shortly, however, with the formal word from AT&T on 05-Oct-09 that the firm has dropped its policy of not allowing VoIP calls over its 3G data network via the iPhone. (See "VoIP over Mobile Broadband a Smart Move for AT&T," 2009-10-09.) However, any changes resulting from the new policy are in the future. Here's how the Vonage apps work today.
For domestic calls, the iPod touch doesn't work at all. This is odd, as one might expect that Apple wouldn't restrain its own non-carrier-attached product, but it has. (An iPod touch also needs a microphone, by the way - either Apple's iPhone Stereo Headset or another product.)
Domestic calls on the iPhone are simply shunted to the iPhone's built-in call system by the Vonage app. Vonage doesn't actually touch these calls, but Apple has allowed Vonage to use its front-end to provide the call interface. This would seem to violate Apple's principle that apps can't duplicate native functionality.
For international calls, Vonage Mobile uses Wi-Fi where available; it's the sole option for the iPod touch, of course, and frequently available on an iPhone.
However, if an iPhone has only a cellular connection available, the Vonage Mobile app places a normal call - invisible to the user - to a local Vonage access number, and then completes the international call through that connection. That means that iPhone subscribers incur per-minute charges as with any normal phone call. In some cases, a subscriber might also face roaming charges.
International calls are supported to more than 60 countries, and, however they are placed, are subject to Vonage's per-minute calling rates, which are far cheaper than most standard carrier rates. You must preload money into your Vonage Mobile account to place calls; Vonage puts $1 of credit into U.S. accounts to let you try the service. You can also set your account to add funds from a credit card whenever you drop below a preset value.
This per-minute charge is quite different from Vonage's landline-replacement service, where the company's standard monthly fee includes free non-metered calls to the United States, Canada, and landlines (but not mobile numbers) to those same 60 countries. Vonage says a flat-rate subscription with the same countries will be available before year's end.
But it's annoying that there's absolutely no integration with existing Vonage accounts; the company has several million subscribers who might appreciate a single bill and unified call history, at minimum, not to mention discounted calling. Skype considers its users to have a single account, and all its applications on smartphones, computers, and even a few standalone handsets tie into that same account's call services.
The limitation on placing domestic calls and receiving any calls might be Vonage's way to avoid Google Voice's fate, a program that Apple says is on indefinite review for approval, and that Google says Apple rejected from the App Store. The FCC is investigating the situation (see "FCC Queries Apple, AT&T, and Google about Google Voice App," 2009-08-03).
Google Voice allows free domestic calls and voicemail, and ties together telephony, text messaging, voicemail, and call forwarding. On the Android platform, installing Google Voice replaces the built-in calling system, using whatever data network is available to route calls.
AT&T's recent decision to allow VoIP over its 3G data network might mean the release of Google Voice, along with notable revisions to both Skype and Vonage Mobile. We'll see if those choices appear, but the near future could bring a lot of competition for helping your fingers do the walking.
Danger, danger, Sidekick users! Your data may already be lost. Microsoft reveals that T-Mobile Sidekick owners may have suffered two indignities: a major disruption a week ago, and then no real hope of restoring lost data.Show full article
T-Mobile and Microsoft may have had carnal relations with the proverbial canine, thanks to a massive failure followed by apparent permanent loss of personal contact, calendar, and other data with the Sidekick, a phone sold by T-Mobile and powered by Microsoft-acquired Danger. I saw the initial phase of this problem first hand a week ago.
We had just returned home with a high school buddy of my wife's after attending a performance of the touring show of Wicked when her friend tried to check his T-Mobile Sidekick smartphone, on which his business depends. No dice.
We tried charging the phone, restarting it, logging in via the Web - all to no avail. It quickly came out that there was a complete outage of services from Danger, the Microsoft-acquired firm that runs the back-end servers for the Sidekick.
Unlike many smartphones, Danger-based phones store data in a cloud - servers located hither and yon that you don't manage, but are imagined to be universally and continuously accessible. These phones retrieve information as necessary and cache a temporary copy on the phone, a copy that's not intended to be a permanent set of stored records. The data also isn't intended to be synced to a computer as with a BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, or other smartphone, but accessed via a Web site or a phone.
It sounds more like the Sidekick data lives on something akin to an IMAP server: you can have some local copies, but the server is master. With IMAP, the copies persist even after a computer or phone restarts, of course, just as you might expect. But in the Danger approach, locally cached data is erased on restart or if the battery runs out of power.
Our friend had his service restored the next day, although some Sidekick users were out of luck for days, or apparently suffered a separate outage. (The reports talk about an outage on 06-Oct-09, while our friend's was down on 03-Oct-09.)
Now the kicker - or the sidekicker: any personal data that's not still on your Sidekick is likely gone forever due to server problems, T-Mobile said in a statement on 10-Oct-09.
It is frankly breathtaking that there's any conceivable way in which one could run a service in 2009 - or 1999 for that matter - where some form of server problem would take down not just live data for customers, but - as far as T-Mobile has said - any previous copies as well.
T-Mobile advises customers who have cached data still in their Sidekicks to avoid running out of power, restarting, or shutting down their Sidekicks, lest the last chance of recovery be lost.
I can't imagine the aftermath of this event. T-Mobile is already the distant fourth cellular carrier by subscriber numbers in the United States, and, like Sprint Nextel, has no landline phone or broadband business with which to pair its offerings.
Having a massive, unprecedented data loss - even if this turns out to be entirely Danger's fault - will likely mean an exodus of high-value customers, who will certainly not be obliged to pay - or will sue to not pay - any contract cancellation fees.
Are other smartphone platforms immune? Why, yes, they are, as a general statement. iPhone (and iPod touch) users who sync via MobileMe wind up with their data stored in many places, and only some corrupted sync operations, coupled with the deletion of automatic backups could wipe contacts, calendars, email, and other data. In other words, as far as we know, it's difficult to imagine a situation in which Apple could make an operations-related mistake that would destroy all iPhone data for a significant percentage of users.
Android users synchronize via Google services, and unless an Android user destroyed his or her Google account or manually deleted all contacts, calendar events, and other data, there would still be copies available elsewhere. Since Google services are easily synced to computers, it's likely that copies would be accessible in Address Book and iCal as well (or comparable programs in other operating systems).
BlackBerry users may be at some risk, because Research in Motion (RIM) relies on centralized servers for push email and other features, but RIM doesn't use a cloud to store data for customers, and BlackBerries have locally stored address books, email, and other data. And, again, it's possible to sync BlackBerries with computers, providing yet another copy.
With these three platforms, unless you wiped your data everywhere, or synced after wiping or losing data in such a way that it synced an empty set everywhere (and there was no local hard drive backup, too), you'd still be able to restore everything, or at least nearly everything.
Windows Mobile, the Nokia-backed Symbian platform, and Palm's webOS have no monolithic central storage system, so smartphones based on these three platforms can't suffer from such problems.
Generally speaking, the Sidekick data loss disaster appears as though it's unique to a cloud-oriented mobile service company. And so, the moral of the story is, be wary of services that store essential information in a cloud without options for making local backups, preferably in an automated fashion.
While the pundit spin may be that the FCC forced AT&T's hand in allowing iPhone voice calling apps to use 3G networks to carry calls, it's also a smart move for AT&T to keep customers from switching. In the end, it may make more money for the telecom giant.Show full article
AT&T, under pressure from the FCC to explain precisely why the iPhone can't place VoIP calls over 3G when its other smartphones can, reversed its previous policy. Apple will be updating its App Store rules to let developers run VoIP connections over any available network medium, not just Wi-Fi.
This change is a big one for AT&T, which I'm sure wrestled with lawyers, spreadsheets, and customer surveys before implementing the move - a move which could have been forced on the firm by the government, potentially along with other rules and restrictions that AT&T might have wanted to avoid.
Despite the potential loss of revenue, the change should be a good one for AT&T. Why? Because it's yet another tool to improve customer loyalty for a company whose 3G network has delivered sub-par performance.
I've been generally satisfied with AT&T's service, but I don't live in areas of weak coverage, and I don't travel extensively. However, on two recent trips across rural and highway portions of Oregon and Washington, AT&T's network was generally satisfactory, no matter whether I was on 2.5G (EDGE) or 3G.
In fact, AT&T turning on 850 MHz base stations in Seattle has distinctly improved my iPhone voice and data experience, especially in my house. Before adding 850 MHz service, made available after AT&T disabled a first-generation network in 2008, AT&T was limited to 1900 MHz. The lower 850 MHz frequencies travel further at the same power level, and penetrate buildings and homes far better.
The move to allow VoIP over cell data means that future versions of Skype, Vonage Mobile, and other programs will likely allow iPhone users to drop to cellular subscription plans with fewer minutes, relying instead on VoIP apps for domestic calling. (See "Vonage Releases Apps for Non-Domestic Calling," 2009-10-06.)
(I'm ignoring here the issue of iPhone subscribers outside the United States, whose carriers have all kinds of different policies and charges. A commenter on this article noted, for instance, that Rogers in Canada doesn't offer nationwide roaming, charging for long-distance calls within the country; Rogers also caps iPhone usage at 5 GB in its heaviest usage plan, unlike AT&T's unlimited smartphone service. And there's also the issue of using an AT&T-connected iPhone outside the United States. AT&T has international data roaming plans, and it might wind up being cheaper to use VoIP over a data plan than to pay the crazily high call charges when roaming.)
But if you look at subscription trends, this change in policy isn't as disruptive as it looks. I have no idea how many people pay AT&T's wireless international rates; perhaps billions of dollars are spent. However, the per-minute calling costs are so high without a special plan that I have to believe that most people are motivated to use calling cards or other solutions, which have included VoIP over Wi-Fi with Skype on the iPhone. (AT&T does have calling plans for calling and roaming outside the United States, but these plans are still ludicrous even on the cheap end. For $4.99 per month, AT&T will let you call either Canada or Mexico from the United States at the rate of 9 cents per minute, versus 2 cents per minute with Skype or Vonage Mobile.)
AT&T's plainest domestic plan with 450 included minutes already offers rollover minutes, huge quantities of evening and weekend minutes (5,000 per month), and free mobile-to-mobile calling.
For new iPhone customers, AT&T gets a minimum of $70 per month for a single line, or $110 per month for a family plan of two lines. (The breakdown is $40 for voice, $30 for data; text messaging is extra, paid per message or with a plan starting at $5 per month. Multi-line plans start at $40 for voice, $10 for an extra line, and $60 for two data plans, with text messaging on top of that.)
But AT&T's voice plan income maxes out at $100 per month, where the company offers unlimited voice service. That's likely the biggest competition for the firm: the $60 difference between a limited-minutes $40 plan and unlimited $100 plan.
However, we must never ignore the cost of customer churn and acquisition (and re-acquisition), which is exceptionally high in the cellular industry. A company can rack up hundreds of dollars per customer between advertising, new phone subsidies ($200 or more per iPhone), and company stores or commissions to independent stores. T-Mobile once offered me the cash and service equivalent of $500 to switch from AT&T at a walk-up kiosk when I was returning equipment I had purchased for testing.
With the pro-rated cancellation fees now offered by AT&T and other carriers - AT&T drops the $175 fee by $5 per month over the contract period - customers now have far less financial motivation to stay with a carrier after a year or so.
If AT&T ups its iPhone customer retention rate by a measurable amount, the company likely saves more than the losses from carrying VoIP traffic over their cellular data network, and achieves better economies of scale, too.
Also remember that time spent talking via a VoIP app over Wi-Fi doesn't further load AT&T's cellular network, and when a VoIP call passes over 3G it consumes roughly the same bandwidth that AT&T would use for a voice call. Both Wi-Fi- and 3G-based VoIP calling bring with them none of the responsibility for call completion, billing, fee settlement, or customer support that's present with normal cellular calls.
In short, AT&T may actually benefit quite a bit from this change in policy, which may be why it didn't opt for prolonged legal action.
The change also helps builds an audience for AT&T's next service, LTE (fourth-generation or 4G mobile broadband), in which voice will be much likely more like a service embedded inside a high-bandwidth data offering. Happy iPhone 3GS customers may easily transition into being happy iPhone 4G customers.
Amazon has released the international Kindle, bringing its signature ebook reader to the world outside the United States. But do the company's pricing plans blunt an otherwise exciting announcement? Kirk McElhearn, writing from his home office in the French Alps, takes a look.Show full article
When Amazon released the Kindle ebook reader, it was available for purchase only to those in the United States. Amazon had made a deal with only a U.S. phone company to provide 3G wireless connectivity, and, most likely, Amazon hadn't managed to work out the licensing issues related to selling U.S. ebooks in other countries.
As of 19-Oct-09, an international version of the Kindle 2 will be available for $279 - $20 more than the U.S.-only Kindle 2 - plus shipping and duties (it's shipped from the United States). So readers in 100 countries will be able to purchase English-language books, as well as various magazines and newspapers, for display on the Kindle. The larger Kindle DX, which can display PDFs, has no international version as yet, although Amazon has promised such a device sometime in 2010.
At the moment, those books, magazines, and newspapers must be purchased from the U.S. Amazon store, but this is an improvement; until now, you had to have a U.S. account and address even to use Amazon's Kindle app on the iPhone and iPod touch. Now, users of those devices who are outside the United States have access to Kindle ebooks as well, but at a higher price.
International Availability -- As noted, all Kindle books must be purchased through U.S.-based Amazon.com, rather than Amazon's international Web stores. Even customers of Amazon UK must buy their Kindle books from Amazon's U.S. store, though the company says it will soon offer direct UK purchases.
Wired's Steven Levy extracted the detail from Amazon head Jeff Bezos that publishers are paid based on the "territory of purchase." A non-U.S. publisher with the rights in a given country or region gets the royalties instead of a U.S. publisher.
Because of this complicated rights issue, not all Kindle books are available internationally; many, but not all publishers have agreed to Amazon's terms. The Amazon Web site says, "Due to copyright restrictions, certain Kindle Titles are not available everywhere. Kindle Titles that are available in your country or region will be displayed." Amazon touts a total of 350,000 books in the United States, but readers in other countries will have access only to 160,000 to 290,000 titles, depending on country.
In particular, no mention is made on Amazon's French store of future plans for French-language books. My guess is that Amazon is negotiating with publishers in major countries.
Canadians are also out of luck in purchasing a global Kindle at all. The Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail couldn't get Amazon to explain why.
Second, a number of the titles that currently top the bestseller list for U.S. Kindle books are unavailable to me in France: "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown, "Last Song" by Nicholas Sparks, books by Steig Larsson, and many more.
So Europeans pay a $3.80 premium and lack access to many popular books. That's troubling.
To be fair, this price includes VAT (in France, VAT on ebooks is a whopping 19.6 percent, though paper books are taxed only 5.5 percent; in the UK, it's 15 percent on ebooks but no surcharge on paper books), and shipping books from the United States is more expensive, so the $13.79 price is still substantially cheaper than the equivalent hardcover with shipping.
But since shipping a digital book costs nearly nothing, this price hike seems excessive. Looking at the prices of a few paperbacks - Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series, for instance - shows similar abusive pricing. For a book that costs $7.99 in the United States ("Dark Tower VII"), Amazon is charging $11.49 to Europeans.
Granted, the U.S. dollar is quite weak these days, so the paperback for the same book costs roughly the equivalent amount in euros from Amazon's French store, but it's enough to make me think twice. And it's certainly not the VAT that explains the $3.50 difference; at the current exchange rate, VAT for that $7.99 paperback would be only $0.44.
Newspapers and Magazines -- The pricing for newspapers is surprising as well. The New York Times, sold in the United States to Kindle users for $13.99 a month, costs $27.99 here in Europe. Even the International Herald Tribune, which is actually published in France, is more expensive here: $9.99 in the United States compared to $19.99 for Europe.
There's no reason to charge twice as much for European customers; after all, one of the Internet's major advantages is that distance doesn't matter. I thought newspapers were trying to survive, but if the Kindle is their big chance, it looks like they're going to blow it.
As far as magazines are concerned, there are only a total of 34 available to European customers, so far. And worse, as with newspapers, many magazines cost twice as much when purchased by European Kindle customers. Asimov's Science Fiction runs $5.99 per issue in Europe, but only $2.99 in the United States, and the Atlantic Monthly is $2.49 per issue compared to just $1.25 in the United States.
International Roaming Fees -- One final gripe: Kindle users in the United States are happy that many classic titles - in the form of public domain books - are available for free from Amazon. These same books, here in Europe, are sold - yes, sold - for $2.30.
Interestingly, when using the international Kindle, U.S. customers must pay $1.99 for every download they make when roaming outside the United States. Newspaper, magazine, and blog subscriptions will cost $4.99 per week to access when roaming. (U.S. users who travel a lot internationally can purchase the international Kindle to have access to Kindle content when overseas; the U.S.-only Kindle cannot download new content when outside of the United States.) $1.99 seems a high price to pay to download a file, closer to text messaging rates than cellular data rates.
Speculation on the Internet suggests that this "roaming fee" is what Amazon is paying AT&T to use AT&T's worldwide data network, rather than using individual cell phone networks in the countries where the device works. (Previously Amazon worked solely with Sprint in the United States, but an AT&T spokesman told Ars Technica that the international version of the Kindle also uses AT&T's network in the United States. AT&T and Sprint use incompatible cellular standards; AT&T uses GSM, which is the dominant flavor worldwide.)
This roaming fee could explain the difference in book prices I mentioned above. If I take the $9.99 base price for a book, add the $1.99 roaming fee and France's 19.6 percent VAT, I come to $14.22, which isn't much higher than the $13.79 price for most books. And $1.99 plus 19.6 percent works out to $2.38, right about the cost of those public domain titles.
While this roaming fee may explain the higher cost of the books - and may explain why "free" books are not free when downloaded outside of the United States - it seems ludicrous that international Kindle buyers must pay a hidden delivery fee for every title. After all, you can download Kindle books to your computer and then transfer them to the device via USB; obtaining these books from sites with public domain books in Kindle-compatible formats is therefore the best way to get such titles. Perhaps Amazon should offer a lower price for computer downloads, and make people pay the full price only for wireless shopping.
The Future of Books -- I'm convinced that ebooks are the future of books in general (they won't supplant them, but will replace dead-tree books for many people), and I'm glad that Amazon has finally managed to release a Kindle for use in other countries.
I've used the Kindle app on my iPod touch and have been very pleased with the experience (see my hands-on review and further thoughts blog posts). Still, I'm very tempted by the international Kindle itself, and I may spring for one.
However, I'm hesitant because I feel its content costs too much and with all the rumors about Apple's tablet coming out soon, I'm afraid that I wouldn't use the Kindle for long. After all, if Apple's tablet uses the iPhone OS or something similar, Amazon's Kindle app will work on it, and that experience will likely be better than using the Kindle device itself. Or, maybe Apple is preparing its own ebook distribution system using the iTunes Store. We can only wait and see.
[Kirk McElhearn loves books. He has just created a new Web site about his favorite author, Henry James.]
Do you have an old Apple LaserWriter that you'd like to keep using from a Mac running Snow Leopard? The loss of AppleTalk makes it harder, but Christian Voelker figured out how to lead his LaserWriter Pro 630 into Snow Leopard's territory, and his experience should help people with similar printers.Show full article
One of the lesser-known changes in Snow Leopard is the removal of the old AppleTalk networking protocol, which Apple has deprecated for years. But even though most networking devices stopped supporting AppleTalk long ago, largely due to improvements in other areas, one area where AppleTalk has long been used is in printers.
Not new printers, of course. But many older printers - the workhorses of the 1990s - are still humming along fine. Although it's become more difficult to find replacement toner cartridges, and they're quite expensive when you do need to buy them, if the printer works well and does what you need (and if you don't print a lot), it's hard to justify junking it.
That was the case for my beloved LaserWriter Pro 630, which I've used since 1994, but which I wasn't able to print to once I upgraded to Snow Leopard. After quite some effort, I was able to bring it back online and use it via Snow Leopard. Although people with other old Apple printers may not be able to follow my path exactly, I hope my basic approach will help point in the right direction.
Oddly, Apple claims that Snow Leopard includes the necessary software to print to the LaserWriter Pro 630, but the company doesn't say how to work around the removal of the AppleTalk support necessary to communicate with the printer.
Back to Basics -- I started by considering what makes up a LaserWriter Pro 630. It has a Canon EX print engine, a hardware PostScript Level 2 interpreter and a print server that can use only EtherTalk as a means of transport. (EtherTalk is AppleTalk over Ethernet, and is the weak link in this scenario.)
The LaserWriter Pro 630 predates the graphical Web browser, so Web configuration and the Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) clearly weren't options, and even TCP as transport layer wasn't going to be available. So it was clear that I had to forget about the printer's Ethernet port and the communication capabilities behind it. But then how could my Mac talk to the PostScript interpreter and the print engine?
Since these older printers had to work with computers other than Macs (and because they were often based on hardware used by other cross-platform printer manufacturers), they often had other communication ports as well. This particular printer has four possibilities beyond Ethernet:
- LocalTalk port (RS-422): This network port would seem to be a possibility, with the addition of an Ethernet-to-LocalTalk bridge from a manufacturer like Asante (look for the Asante FriendlyNet Ethernet to LocalTalk Bridge; for more discussion, see the old and likely obsolete article "Printer Sharing and Print Spooling in Mac OS X," 2003-03-31). They're not made any more, but if you have one around, it could be worth trying. However, there are two problems with using the LocalTalk port. First, since it hails from the same era as the printer's Ethernet port, it likely won't work with Snow Leopard's modern networking and printing technologies, and second, with a throughput of only 230.4 Kbps, it might be awfully slow.
- Centronics-style parallel port. Parallel ports used to be commonplace for connecting printers to PCs. It was almost unthinkable that anyone would ever use this port to print from a Mac, but what if I could find a parallel print server that would plug into the printer and which I could connect to via Ethernet?
- Serial port (RS-232): Serial ports were less commonly used than parallel ports for printing, but if I couldn't find a parallel port print server, perhaps I could get a serial print server that would meet the same needs, if at a slower speed than the parallel port.
- SCSI port. Although it's a communication interface, SCSI on printers was used almost entirely for connecting a hard disk that would store downloadable fonts or commonly used background art.
Do Parallel Ports Ever Meet? I first looked for "parallel print server" on eBay and bought a widely used but now discontinued D-Link DP-301+. Beware of this model, which sounds good when you read about it online. It, like all of these small parallel print servers, has a severe design flaw. It lacks an external reset button, so once configured (as most used units would be), you can't reset it without using its built-in Web interface. In this case, it is not only difficult to find the device's IP address, but it remains inaccessible unless you have the proper password. Unfortunately, the seller didn't know the password, since a former friend of his had configured it, and I was happy to return it.
After some more searching, I bought a new Netgear Mini Print Server PS101 parallel print server. It is also quite common, even smaller than the D-Link unit, and from a company I like. It was a bit more expensive, but easier to set up. If there was a password on the device, you would need a Windows machine (or possibly VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop) to run the Windows software that's required for resetting, but at least there is such an option.
The Netgear PS101 gets its IP address via DHCP, so you can figure it out by scanning for devices on your LAN using the Angry IP Scanner utility (scan once before you plug in the PS101, and once afterwards, and look for the new device). With an AirPort base station, you can also use the DHCP Clients tab in AirPort Utility (Advanced > Logs and Statistics > DHCP Clients) to monitor a new client being added. Once you've found the PS101, you can connect to its Web interface via a browser. There's not much to configure in the Web interface; just finding the IP address is the key.
Once I had the IP address of the print server, I was ready to go... or so I thought. I opened the Print & Fax preference pane on my Mac and started to add a new printer. But what exactly to enter? Selecting the IP button was fairly obvious, but which protocol is right? The default LPD? The modern IPP? The proprietary but widely supported Jetdirect? I could tell from a port scan in Network Utility that the Netgear print server used port 515 and 9100, and a quick Google search showed that 515 was used for LPD and 9100 was used for Jetdirect.
I added a printer for both of these protocols, but to no avail. Both printer connections showed up with a green light in the Print & Fax preference pane's printer list, but with LPD, printing a page timed out after more than a minute. Jetdirect was slightly more promising, printing a lot of garbage, indicating that at least there was communication taking place.
Initially, I thought the problem might be PostScript 3 code being sent to a PostScript 2 printer, but that turned out not to be the issue. I had overlooked one last thing to configure on the printer - how to tell it to communicate properly with the parallel port. Time to read the manual. As if I still had that around after 15 years...
Luckily, Apple provides manuals for older products online. I found and downloaded the manual for my LaserWriter Pro 630, but it was entirely in Courier, with no styles or graphics. Lest you think I'm complaining about aesthetics, the problem was that the information I needed was in a table in Appendix C (page 60), and it took me nearly an hour to figure out how to interpret the mass of monospaced text. (Line numbers are missing, but each setting corresponds to four lines, each of which describes one communication method, so I looked at the Parallel line for each setting.)
On the left rear top of the LaserWriter Pro 630, above all the connectors, there is a tiny wheel that offers 10 settings. Unfortunately, the LaserWriter Utility application is not available any longer under Mac OS X. With it, I could have enabled a setting that would print a configuration page when the printer turned on, and that page would have displayed the current communication settings.
But reading the table in Appendix C gave the clues I needed. The wheel was set to 0 to start with, which corresponded to a "Normal" connection and "PostScript" as the Control Protocol Mode. I knew those values didn't work via the parallel port, which also eliminated settings 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Settings 1 and 3 used "Raw" as the connection and "HP PCL 4" as the Control Protocol Mode, whereas setting 9 used "BSP" as the connection and "PostScript" as the Control Protocol Mode.
Since I knew I wanted the printer to interpret PostScript and not HP's PCL (Printer Command Language), I chose setting 9 even though I have no idea what connection type "BSP" involves, and printed a test page. It worked! My LaserWriter Pro 630 had returned to the land of the living without being savaged by Snow Leopard!
It gets better. Because my FritzBox Wi-Fi gateway doesn't route AppleTalk between the Wi-Fi and Ethernet segments of my network, I previously couldn't print from my MacBook unless I plugged the MacBook into my Ethernet network. Because this new setup doesn't use AppleTalk, I can now print wirelessly from my MacBook, sans Ethernet cable.
Extrapolating to Other Printers -- Although I'm pretty sure this approach will work fine for those with a LaserWriter Pro 630, other old Apple printers may lack a parallel port or may have an entirely different method of changing the parallel port's connection mode.
But if your printer has a parallel port and perusal of the original manual implies that you can tweak the connection settings with a hardware switch (rather than the LaserWriter Utility), give the Netgear PS101 print server a try. There are also plenty of other parallel and even serial print servers, some with Wi-Fi, that might work.
I do wish Apple would give more hints about how to continue using a theoretically supported Apple printer under Snow Leopard. Suggestions for Ethernet-to-parallel/serial print servers and an explanation of what Normal, Raw, and BSP mean with respect to connection types would be welcome.
Unless - I won't say "until" - they do, however, I hope my attempt here at explaining how I brought my LaserWriter Pro 630 back into service under Snow Leopard will help others keep their perfectly functional old printers humming along.
[Christian Voelker works as a network admin in an advertising agency in Hamburg, Germany, and specializes in archival solutions based on DuraSpace and DSpace. His long term pet project is a local history archive for citizens of Hamburg.]
by Lewis Butler
Interface options lurk deep within the bowels of Mac OS X, but Lewis Butler shows you how to summon one and put it to work helping you focus on just a few applications at a time.Show full article
Having returned from an archeological dig into the dark history of Mac OS X, I've unearthed a feature that could change the way you interact with your applications, enabling you to focus on one or two more easily than in the past.
Back in 1999, when Steve Jobs first showed off the new Finder in Mac OS X, it ran in a single-application mode, where switching from one application to another caused the first application to minimize (this was the original demo of the Genie effect). This was intended to be the default behavior, but it was so widely reviled that Apple quickly changed the default to the familiar multi-application mode that shows multiple applications on the screen at the same time.
Mac OS X's multi-application mode differed from how previous versions of the Mac OS worked in that it interleaved all open windows without regard to which application they belonged to, a feature that annoyed a lot of long-time Mac users.
In Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, Apple has made significant improvements to the Dock, including improved Expose integration and minimizing windows invisibly, among much else. As a result, people who are starting to use the Dock seriously for the first time are discovering that clicking an icon in the Dock brings all its windows to the foreground. This interface behavior isn't new in Snow Leopard, of course, but it's an example of how Apple has never really given up the desire to make users focus on a single application at a time.
Single-application mode is how the iPhone works, of course, and on the Mac, almost all Apple applications - think about Mail, iTunes, and iPhoto - rely on a single window that can easily take over the entire screen. When an application needs a second window, such as for keywords or editing in iPhoto, it is generally a palette that disappears when the application is not in the foreground.
But it goes further. Lurking in the scary bowels of Mac OS X for all these years has been this little command, which brings back single-application mode. (Go ahead and try it - it's easily reversed.)
defaults write com.apple.dock single-app -bool true
For single-application mode to take effect, you have to relaunch the Dock with this second command.
That's right, the original single-application mode in pre-release versions of Mac OS X is still with us. Although it was always intended as a simple option for people who are not computer experts, it turns out to be an interesting option for the power user.
The most important fact to realize is that single-application mode is tied exclusively to the Dock. This means that if you click an application's icon in the Dock, it immediately hides all the other applications, including the Finder.
However, if you switch applications through any other method, including clicking another visible application's window and the Command-Tab application switcher, Mac OS X's normal multi-application approach remains in effect, and nothing will be hidden.
You can thus combine methods of switching between applications. Click Mail in the Dock, then use Command-Tab to switch to Safari, and you'll end up with both Mail and Safari on screen, and nothing else. If you later want to hide Safari again, click Mail's Dock icon (or just Option-click on Mail's window).
If you think about this for a minute, you'll start to see the possibilities. Enabling single-application mode means that you can quickly and easily build a custom list of visible applications, and that list is dynamic. In other words, you can achieve a lot of what you might use Spaces for, without having to switch between spaces or manage which applications show in which spaces.
The main advantage to this single-application mode is that clicking an application in the Dock has always, as I mentioned earlier, brought all that application's windows to the foreground. So, when I click Terminal's icon in the Dock, not only do all other applications immediately disappear from view, I see the window for my local shells, the window for the remote shells on my mail server, and the window for the remote shells on my primary DNS server. These windows are exactly where I want them on the screen and there are no other windows cluttering up the view. However, if I need to reference a Web page at the same time, I simply use Command-Tab to bring up Safari, giving me its window and Terminal's windows all on one screen.
With Spaces, I kept all my Web browser windows in one space, but that meant a lot of swapping back and forth, or moving a browser window to another space temporarily. With single-application mode I always have the applications I want in the foreground visible and everything else is hidden from view.
The primary downside is that single-application mode doesn't play nicely with Expose. When you activate Expose, it shows only windows for visible applications. I was hoping that it would treat the hidden applications' windows as minimized windows, but that was not the case.
For me there is also an issue with full-screen video. If I am watching something with VLC or QuickTime Player on my second monitor and I click an icon in the Dock, the video is hidden from view. That's not surprising, but it's not what I want since I think that a full-screen video should stay full-screen no matter what. It's something to be aware of if you tend to watch video while doing other work, as I do.
There may be other issues I haven't encountered in the few days I've been using single-application mode, but getting back to the normal multi-application mode is easy. Just paste this first command into Terminal and then restart the Dock with the second command.
defaults delete com.apple.dock single-app
In the end, the main thing that I've noticed in the last few days is that it is much easier for me to concentrate on a single task when I can quickly hide all unrelated applications and show just the one or two that I need right now. I'm finding that this method works better for me than Spaces, and I am a big fan of Spaces.
[Lewis Butler is a longtime Unix system admin, postmaster and Mac geek. He is a frequent contributor to a large number of mailing lists under his "LuKreme" alias.]
by Doug McLean
Notable software releases this week include Epson Printer Drivers 2.1 for Mac OS X 10.6.1, iPhone OS 3.1.2, and Nisus Writer Pro 1.3.1.Show full article
Epson Printer Drivers 2.1 for Mac OS X 10.6.1 from Apple provides the latest Epson printing and scanning software for Snow Leopard. A full list of Snow Leopard-supported printers is available on Apple's Web site. The update is available via Software Update or the Apple Support Downloads page. (Free, 288.8 MB)
iPhone OS 3.1.2 from Apple is a maintenance and stability update to the iPhone and iPod touch operating system software. The update fixes several issues, including one that prevents the iPhone from waking from sleep, one that interrupts cellular network services until the iPhone is restarted, and a crashing bug that is occasionally triggered by video streaming. The update is available only via iTunes. (Free, 306.2 MB)
Nisus Writer Pro 1.3.1 from Nisus Software is a compatibility and maintenance update to the increasingly powerful word processor. The latest version addresses a number of compatibility issues with Snow Leopard, including the inability to resize document windows, the failure to import .doc files, and poor spelling checker performance. Also fixed is a problem with drag-and-drop when dropping text into an empty text area, a crashing bug triggered by the Page Setup dialog in the French localization, the inability to change default leader tab settings, and an issue that caused images to be inverted when files with cropped or resized images were exported as HTML. The full list of changes is available on Nisus Software's Web site. ($79 new, free update, 133 MB)
We've been enjoying an embarrassment of rich content of late, and we didn't want these great articles to go unnoticed by our email subscribers simply because we had more timely pieces that took their places in this week's issue. These articles will likely appear in the future, but if you want to read them now, just visit our Web site (where you can make comments too!).Show full article
New Processor Promises Improved Camera GPS Support -- The integration of GPS into digital cameras for geotagging - attaching coordinates to images - hasn't gone well. Cameras aren't well suited for rapidly acquiring signals nor updating precompiled satellite location lists. A new module from chipmaker CSR may help provide better results. (Glenn Fleishman, 2009-10-09)
The Best Camera Evangelizes iPhone Photography -- Professional photographer Chase Jarvis has recently released a new iPhone photo app called The Best Camera that can take pictures, add effects, and upload photos to sharing sites, all in one fell swoop. (Doug McLean, 2009-10-09)
Tag, You're in 2D! -- With the right software, a matrix of rectangles and dots turns into a URL, a piece of text, or an action. Welcome to 2D barcodes, courtesy of TidBITS. (Glenn Fleishman, 2009-10-08)
iPod nano Delivers Static in Radio Interface and Features -- Colleagues seem alarmed by Glenn's antipathy to the iPod nano's analog FM radio tuning. By failing to leverage data in the radio stream, Apple delivers a typical and irritating experience - compared to what it could have been. (Glenn Fleishman, 2009-10-12)
Find My (Wife's) iPhone -- While Tonya trained for a 100-mile bike ride this summer, Adam monitored her location from afar via Find My iPhone. Privacy breach? No, just making her feel more comfortable about being all alone many miles from home. (Adam C. Engst, 2009-10-12)
Read on for a collection of links to some of the most interesting articles and resources that the TidBITS staff discovered on the Web this week.Show full article
Bruce Tognazzini Rethinks iPhone Home Screen -- In his "Ask Tog" column, human interface designer Bruce Tognazzini offers suggestions for how the iPhone home screen could be redesigned to scale fluidly to the large number of apps that many people have. His ideas are good, but also interesting are proposals that the iPhone should have an optional home screen that displays scrolling information from apps. (Posted 2009-10-09)
iPhone Scores Highest in Smartphone Survey -- The J.D. Power and Associates research firm found Apple had the highest ranking in a survey that weighted a number of usage factors among both business and personal owners: 811 on a scale of 1,000 for personal use, and 803 for business. The big surprise? LG beat out BlackBerry's RIM for 2nd place for personal use (776 to 759). Over 3,200 smartphone users were surveyed. (Posted 2009-10-08)
Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs -- CIO.com interviews Carmine Gallo, author of "The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience." We haven't seen the book, but the interview makes a number of excellent points that will help you give better presentations and understand why Apple presentations work well. (Posted 2009-10-08)
Cell Industry Backs USB for Charging, 3.5mm Jack for Audio -- The U.S. cell industry trade group CTIA says it officially supports standardizing the charging/sync and audio ports on handsets. Handset makers are now urged to use the micro-A or micro-AB USB formats (AB accepts either micro-A or micro-B plugs) for data transfer and charging, and the 3.5mm audio jack for headsets, earbuds, and microphones. This supplements a July 2009 pledge for uniform USB jacks by the GSMA, a trade group representing the majority of carriers worldwide and a host of major handset makers. (Posted 2009-10-06)
Apple Leaves U.S. Chamber of Commerce over Climate Policy -- The New York Times Green Inc. blog reports on Apple's resignation from the United States Chamber of Commerce over the chamber's opposition to efforts from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to limit greenhouse gases. Apple isn't alone in disagreeing with the chamber - three large utilities have resigned in recent weeks, and Nike withdrew from the chamber board, all for the same reason. (Posted 2009-10-06)
Software Sold or Licensed? Court Says Sold -- An intriguing court decision found that a man re-selling legitimate licenses to Autodesk's expensive CAD software was acting legally under the first-sale doctrine that enables used book and music sales in the United States. The court said that while Autodesk says it licensed its software, the license walks and talks like a sale, and thus the software can be resold. Many software makers restrict or bar sales, and that may now not hold. Autodesk will appeal the ruling. (Posted 2009-10-05)
by Jeff Carlson
In this week's TidBITS Talk discussions, Snow Leopard gets a workout with reports of FTP issues and other aggravations that some readers have discovered. The iPhone also gets attention, with readers looking for voice recording apps, inexpensive device holders, dealing with international data roaming charges, and how to resuscitate a dead unit. Also this week, the topic of backups comes up - specifically, synchronizing folders - and the search is on for a resource to replace the discontinued Apple Macintosh Products Guide.Show full article
iPhone recording app -- A reader solicits suggestions for voice recording applications that record files his secretary can easily open and transcribe. (9 message)
FTP issues with Snow Leopard -- Is anyone else running into problems setting up an FTP server under Snow Leopard? (3 messages)
Continual aggravations with Snow Leopard -- Could Snow Leopard problems stem from a bad hard disk? Readers compare notes. (3 messages)
iZard -- Who needs an expensive iPhone holder when you can make one from paper or appropriate a toy lizard? (6 messages)
Retrospect Alternative? Readers looking for folder synchronization find Retrospect overwhelming. Other options are offered. (16 messages)
AT&T International Roaming Charges -- If you're traveling with an iPhone and haven't reviewed the roaming charges for voice and data on your plan, be sure to read this thread. (13 messages)
Locating Software -- Apple has discontinued its little-known Macintosh Products Guide. Is the Apple Downloads page an acceptable substitute? (3 messages)
iPhone Failure -- When a reader's iPhone dies during travel, a hard reset might be the key to resuscitating it. (4 messages)