Series: Mac OS 8
What's new in (and what's updated for) Apple's newest system software
Article 1 of 5 in series
by Geoff Duncan
This week, Apple will officially release Mac OS 8, a new version of the Macintosh operating system, billed as the most significant update since 1984 (expect ads with a flying saucer motif)Show full article
This week, Apple will officially release Mac OS 8, a new version of the Macintosh operating system, billed as the most significant update since 1984 (expect ads with a flying saucer motif). Mac OS 8 offers new features and interface changes, plus a surfeit of Internet software - all surrounding Mac OS 8's centerpiece: a PowerPC-native, multithreaded Finder.
The changes in Mac OS 8 are difficult to sum up in a brief article, so we'll give Mac OS 8 additional "under the hood" coverage in upcoming issues.
System Requirements & Ordering -- Mac OS 8 has higher system requirements than any previous system, mandating a 68040 or PowerPC processor, at least 12 MB of physical RAM (with Virtual Memory to allow for 20 MB total), and a minimum of about 65 MB of disk space (a complete install takes about 130 MB). Just as Mac OS 7.6 left 24-bit Macs and 68000- and 68020-based machines behind, Mac OS 8 does not support 68030-based Macs, including multitudes of Mac II series machines and numerous LC, Performa, and PowerBook models. In addition, Mac OS 8 does not support 68030 machines upgraded to 68040 or PowerPC processors via upgrade cards (although logic board upgrades are okay). For those machines, Mac OS 7.6.1 remains the last supported operating system.
Mac OS 8 costs about $99 on CD-ROM; floppy disk versions cost about $25 more and lack some extras. Owners of Mac OS 7.6 can use a $30 rebate certificate that should be in the Mac OS 8 package, and if you purchased Mac OS 7.6 from 01-Jun-97 through 31-Jul-97, you can get Mac OS 8 for the cost of shipping; details should be in the 7.6 package.
The update should be available by the end of this week from Claris, major mail order houses, and retailers. Many resellers (including Claris) have limited time offers and discounts on other products with Mac OS 8, so it might pay to look for a deal.
Apple plans to release internationalized versions of Mac OS 8 throughout the rest of 1997.
A Whole New Finder -- The most significant enhancement in Mac OS 8 is a new, multithreaded, PowerPC-native Finder. Multithreading means the Finder can now simultaneously perform many tasks - like copying files and emptying the Trash - that were previously done one at a time. Though third-party products have offered such features, multithreading provides plenty of other, subtler improvements. For instance, Finder windows now open while other things are happening (a handy feature when you work with large folders, CD-ROMs, or slow servers), and Finder windows now update more quickly. These changes make the Mac OS 8 Finder feel snappy, although it takes time to learn to take advantage of the multithreading. We've been taught for years that the Finder doesn't do these things; now we don't expect it to.
You might not notice the multithreading right away, but you'll certainly notice the Finder's new "platinum appearance." Everything uses greyscale coloring and a new 3D look. You control the appearance via the Appearance control panel, where you set if the platinum appearance should be used everywhere instead of the old System 7 look, and if the system font should be the traditional Chicago or the new Charcoal. Using the platinum appearance for all applications generally works well (I found a few cosmetic glitches in some programs); the most common annoyances involve window placement, since the dimensions of some windows are now several pixels larger. Apple has posted screenshots showing off the new look:
The new Appearance Manager (controlled via the Appearance control panel) does not enable you to switch your system's appearance to new, often outlandish themes publicized of late. However, Mac OS 8 includes the groundwork for multiple appearances, and developers can write programs that use appearance themes: expect to see more along these lines. If you're desperate to play with your Mac's appearance, check out Kaleidoscope; version 1.7 is supposed to work with Mac OS 8.
The new Finder features spring-loaded folders - you double-click a folder without releasing the mouse after the second click (a "click and a half") - to drill down into your folder hierarchy and then put a document in a particular location or open a particular folder. When you release the mouse, all the intervening windows close, leaving an uncluttered desktop with just the items you want.
Finder windows can be converted to pop-up windows (or "drawers") that live as tabs at the bottom of your screen. Drawers slide open when you drag items into them or click their tabs, but close as soon as you're done with them. Other new commands include keyboard shortcuts for revealing the original item an alias points to (Command-R) and moving an item to the Trash (Command-Delete). You can also set which columns appear in the Finder's list view on a window-by-window basis (but you can't change the columns' order or width).
New System Features -- Mac OS 8 sports several new productivity features. If you Control-click almost any item in the Finder (including the desktop), a contextual menu appears and offers commonly used commands. The menubar and pop-up menus feature sticky menus that stay down once you click them. I thought this feature would be most useful for RSI sufferers, but now I use it constantly, particularly to navigate large pop-up menus. Other new goodies include the built-in capability to use pictures as a desktop backdrop and an About box that better represents how much memory programs are using.
There are, however, glaringly unimproved areas of Mac OS 8. Opening the Chooser is still like having a flashback to 1988 (although it now works on a locked volume), and the standard Open and Save dialogs recall 1985: Many enhancements - pop-up windows, hierarchical Apple menus, and keyboard shortcuts - seem geared to work around these and other shortcomings, rather than fixing them.
Installation -- Mac OS 8 has the same sort of catch-all installer that Apple introduced with Mac OS 7.6, which drives a plethora of secondary installers. Although the installation process is a bit clunky, it's much better than manually running through the installers. Mac OS 8 includes two setup assistants - Mac OS Setup Assistant and Internet Setup Assistant - which step you through naming the machine, selecting a printer, and connecting to the Internet. The Internet Setup Assistant seems most useful if you know what you're doing; for instance, most people who connect to the Internet through a LAN won't know what subnet mask they should use. These Assistants pick up some information from previous systems, but a clean install of Mac OS 8 gives the Internet Setup Assistant virtually no data to work with, and naive users may think they must sign up with an ISP (offers are built in).
Internet Integration -- Apple says Mac OS 8 offers a higher level of Internet integration than any other operating system - if that's true, it's a reflection of the sad state of Internet access today. With three exceptions, Mac OS 8's Internet integration is a cumbersome bundle of existing software (three Web browsers, three email clients, PointCast, Castanet, and more). I recently set up both my sister and my parents with Internet access, and I can't imagine pointing them to this cacophony of software and calling it superior Internet integration.
So what are the three exceptions? The first is an AppleScript (really!) called Connect To... that lives in the Apple menu. From any application, choose "Connect To...", type or paste a URL, and you're on your way. It's minimal, but effective. The second is Apple's Personal Web Sharing, a tiny, hardy Web server that can be configured much like File Sharing. You need a stable IP address to use Web Sharing effectively with the Internet (which excludes most dial-up users), but it's great for testing CGI programs and sharing data on a local TCP network (aided by Personal NetFinder, which can give Finder-like list views to Web users). Don't be confused by Web Sharing's old ReadMe file: it implies that you must revert to Mac OS 7.6 to use Web Sharing with PCI-based machines, but in fact you need Mac OS 7.6 or later.
The third exception is more subtle: Internet Config. Apple slyly puts Internet Config 1.3 in an Internet Utilities folder, but Internet Config in fact serves as the backbone behind the Internet Setup Assistant, the Connect To... script, and more. Apple doesn't appear to discuss Internet Config anywhere in the Mac OS 8 documentation, but it's good to see a freeware solution developed by the Mac Internet community being distributed with Mac OS 8 (see TidBITS-255).
Speed & Compatibility -- I've used various versions of Mac OS 8 for the last several weeks, and I've found it stable and responsive. A bad cable forced me to revert to 7.6.1 for a few days, and I was startled by how much the older OS got in my way. The new system lets applications share the CPU more efficiently, so background tasks run faster, and some programs see performance improvements of as much as 25 percent. However, though Mac OS 8 lets me do more of what I want when I want, it's not necessarily faster: for instance, copying files can be slower than in Mac OS 7.6.1, since the Finder allows more time for other things to happen. I don't mind, especially since the Finder is dramatically faster in the background under Mac OS 8.
Almost without exception, my conservative set of third-party control panels, extensions, and utilities have worked on my Power Mac 7600. I've seen reports to the contrary, but on my machines (a Quadra 650, a Duo 2300c, and a Power Mac 7600) the Finder crashes immediately if I load any component of Now Utilities from versions 5.0.3 or 6.7. Now Software is looking into reported problems with OS 8. Connectix says RAM Doubler works with Mac OS 8, although Speed Doubler is incompatible and should be avoided. Symantec has released updates to Norton Utilities and Suitcase. If you use MacsBug, you need version 6.5.4a3 with Mac OS 8.
Worth the Weight? Most people will find Mac OS 8 a worthwhile upgrade, providing they have the CPU horsepower and memory to let it thrive. Apple expects OS 8 to drive sales of new hardware and upgrades, as long-time Mac owners bite the bullet and step up to the new system. I think some will criticize OS 8 for being more Windows-like than previous releases, and there's some basis to those complaints. However, OS 8 is elegant and powerful, and your machine will never be mistaken for anything but a Macintosh.
Article 2 of 5 in series
by Geoff Duncan
Last week's article in TidBITS-389 gave an overview of some of the new capabilities and features in Mac OS 8. This article looks at some subtler real-world and technical details. To determine what I should put in this article, I watched as two people used Mac OS 8 for the first time on one of my machinesShow full article
Last week's article in TidBITS-389 gave an overview of some of the new capabilities and features in Mac OS 8. This article looks at some subtler real-world and technical details.
To determine what I should put in this article, I watched as two people used Mac OS 8 for the first time on one of my machines. (One is a power user and de facto Mac administrator at a large, multi-platform company; the other uses her Mac at home for word processing, simple Internet use, and educational CD-ROMs). I also asked four other long-time Macintosh users (two of whom work in the computing industry, all of whom are using Mac OS 8) what they knew about the release and what they expected from it. These notes respond directly to their comments and concerns.
System Folder Folders -- One of the first things people noticed upon opening the Mac OS 8 System Folder is that it has new sub-folders. Just as System 7 included folders for Control Panels, Extensions, Fonts, Preferences, and others, Mac OS 8 creates new sub-folders to reduce clutter. Many, such as Help, Voices, Modem Scripts, and Printer Descriptions, are self-explanatory; others should help when third-party applications adopt them, including Application Support (for programs with their own system resources, like many Adobe and Microsoft products) and Internet Plug-Ins (which will hopefully serve as a repository for browser plug-ins and add-ons, so updating or switching browsers isn't as painful). There are also folders outside the System Folder, including Assistants (with Apple's Setup and Internet Assistants), Utilities, and OpenDoc's Stationery and Editors folders. The Scripting Additions folder has been promoted to the root level of the System Folder (which can confuse some scripting utilities).
System Services -- Mac OS 8 includes a significant user interface revision to File Sharing. The File Sharing and Users & Groups control panels provide a better (though still occasionally clutzy) interface, and the Sharing Setup and File Sharing Monitor control panels have been rolled into a new File Sharing control panel. Setting up Sharing privileges for individual folders now uses pop-up menus rather than checkboxes, but a rather unfortunate Copy button confuses the process of propagating sharing privileges through a folder hierarchy. (Two users thought they had to copy sharing privileges to the clipboard, then paste them onto subsequent folders.)
Programs that use the system color picker can now use two new color pickers: the whimsical Crayon Picker (a big hit with dBUG, the local Mac user group) and an HTML Picker, which can display HTML expressions of colors (as three hexadecimal numbers, like 0099FF) and be restricted to non-dithering "Web colors." If you press Option in any color picker, the cursor changes to an eyedropper that can to pick up any color displayed on your screen.
Mac OS 8 also includes some cool under-the-hood gadgets. Text Encoding Converter 1.2 enables applications to convert text between arbitrary encoding systems (like Mac OS Roman to Windows Latin-1), letting special characters, diacriticals, and other text elements to translate correctly across systems, platforms, and languages. It's also the first step to providing Unicode conversion on the Mac, supporting the enormous Unicode 1.1 and 2.0 character sets, plus all Mac OS script encodings, many Windows encodings, plus some Web and email encoding schemes. Unfortunately, programs must take specific advantage of these services; hopefully that support will become more widespread.
Choose About This Computer from the Finder's Apple menu, and you'll see an enhanced overview of memory use. Under previous systems, applications that used temporary memory in the System heap were shown using the relatively small partitions set in their Get Info windows, while the System heap grew ever larger. Now, temporary memory used by applications is shown as part of that application's memory partition, so you can see how much RAM applications like Internet Explorer are really using. Unfortunately, the new About This Computer window confused one of my sample users: he wanted to know why an application was taking more memory than he had given it in the program's Get Info window, thought something was wrong, and restarted the machine.
On the networking side, Mac OS 8 includes Open Transport 1.2, which offers protection from the heavily publicized Ping Of Death and SYN flood denial-of-service Internet attacks. Open Transport is the only networking technology supported under Mac OS 8; you can't revert to classic networking even on machines that do not require Open Transport. Mac OS 8 also includes AppleShare Workstation Client 3.7.1, which can establish connections via TCP to AppleShare IP servers over local networks or the Internet.
A preliminary tech note on Mac OS 8 is available from Apple. If you need more detailed information on OS 8 internals, it's helpful.
Cache & Carry -- After last week's article on Mac OS 8, I received several messages from readers asking about Mac OS 8's performance on 68040-based Macs. I've been running OS 8 on a Quadra 650 for a few weeks, and the results have been quite good. System profiling utilities (like Speedometer and Norton System Info - MacBench wouldn't run) put the machine in the same ballpark as its performance under System 7.6.1. However, the machine feels somewhat snappier, especially switching applications and handling background processing.
There's one caveat to these performance notes: disk cache makes a world of difference, especially in the Finder. On either a 68040- or PowerPC-based machine, a 128K disk cache (set via the Memory control panel) seemed adequate until I increased it to 512K or 1 MB and noticed Finder responsiveness increase significantly. Suddenly windows opened, closed, and refreshed more quickly, and file intensive applications (like Web browsers) moved faster. I currently have my disk caches set to about 512K, but optimum settings will depend on your system and available RAM. Click the Default button in the Memory control panel for an initial setting for your machine, then adjust if necessary.
OS 8 Utilities -- Numerous utilities and add-ons for OS 8 are beginning to appear, although I'm only going to note items my sample users or TidBITS readers asked about.
Trygve Isaacson has released CMM Plug-ins, a PowerPC-only $10 shareware add-on for the Finder's contextual menus that lets users modify file creator types, hide and show items, play with text files (converting line endings and stripping HTML), and more.
Open Door Networks has released AFP Engage! (which enables you to double-click AFP URLS for AppleShare IP file servers) and Personal LogDoor, which provides logging, activity, and AppleTalk capabilities for Personal Web Sharing (and Microsoft's PWS). Both are commercial products, but they don't require Mac OS 8 (they work with System 7.5 or higher).
Apple has updated MacsBug and System Picker for Mac OS 8; if you don't know what these are, don't worry about them.
Apple Events & AppleScript -- The most subtle, yet pervasive, changes involve the Finder and AppleScript 1.1.2, the first real update to AppleScript in about three years. Those who use AppleScript to automate and customize Macintosh will find that AppleScript 1.1.2 fixes known bugs (like concatenating with an empty list and using multi-character delimiters) and adds support for new application types (control panel and accessory applications). Bigger changes lie in the System and Finder. Many items previously scriptable through the Finder (like sharing privileges) now live in scriptable control panels, and the Finder handles several file properties in new ways: scripts compiled under System 7.x using these properties will now find the word "obsolete" following them when they are re-opened under Mac OS 8. If you remove the word "obsolete", the scripts will probably work fine under OS 8, but won't run under earlier systems. This forces some script writers to maintain different source scripts for different versions of the Mac OS. Apple has also changed the way applications and processes are treated, and the Finder now processes Apple events in separate threads, which can create misleading timeout errors. Apple has posted good information about AppleScript with Mac OS 8; I recommend it to all AppleScript programmers.
The Finder also has a new event up its oversized sleeve: "rapp," meaning "re-open application." This event will help programmers solve a problem many novice users experience: they don't realize that an application is still running, double-click its icon, and don't notice that the menubar has changed in response. The "rapp" event should let programs detect an attempted re-launch and respond appropriately (perhaps by opening an untitled window or presenting a dialog box). Unfortunately, a few older programs respond with an error, sometimes putting up a dialog saying that an Apple event error has occurred.
AppleScript 1.1.2 is not PowerPC native; that should come in AppleScript 1.2, which may be available by mid-1998.
Let's Focus, Group! How well did my informal group of Mac users understand the changes in OS 8? Pretty well overall, but perhaps not as well as Apple would like.
A rose by any other name is... a rose that's had its name changed. Apple's Copland operating system project was to have been called System 8, which was "coming soon" from Apple as early as 1994. In August of 1996, Apple mothballed Copland and in December of 1996 (after months of rumor and speculation) decided to acquire NeXT. This led to Rhapsody, the combined Apple-NeXT operating system project currently in development. Last March, Apple announced plans to release the Mac OS 7.7 update (code-named Tempo) as Mac OS 8, since it incorporated technologies developed for Copland, and sported a major user experience overhaul.
If that sounds familiar to you, consider yourself one of the Macintosh literati - none my informal group of Mac users could recite that whole story (with or without dates). The distinctions between Copland, System 8, Mac OS 8, Rhapsody and even the Be OS can be lost on users who don't pore over Macintosh magazines, Web sites, and mailing lists. All but one of my sample users asked me where "the NeXT stuff" was in Mac OS 8 (one even asked how to get to the Unix prompt). Another had read extensive coverage of the Be OS last winter and expressed disappointment Be technology didn't "show through." Still another had heard that nearly all control panels and extensions would break under Mac OS 8 (this would have been true of Copland) and was pleasantly surprised to learn Mac OS 8 had a high degree of compatibility with current system enhancements.
Mac OS 8's new platinum appearance can confuse users who grew up on System 7.x, since some interface elements can give false visual cues. One user wanted to know why the Finder's pop-up windows closed automatically ("When I open a drawer on my desk, it stays open until I bang my knee on it!"); another saw the wider window borders on most document windows and questioned "Why are all these windows modal - I thought Mac OS 8 was supposed to be multi-threaded?"
The six Macintosh users I spoke with are not necessarily representative of the larger Mac community, and it's inappropriate to draw sweeping conclusions from their comments. For space reasons, I also haven't mentioned how much of Mac OS 8 they cruised through with little or no trouble: Web Sharing, File Sharing, setting up a Desktop Printer, sticky menus, spring-loaded folders, collapse boxes, and contextual menus. More telling is that the two users I directly introduced to Mac OS 8 were favorably impressed and plan to buy copies for their own machines. Despite a few rough spots in the product and Apple's presentation of it, Mac OS 8 is a very good thing. Let me put it this way: if Mac OS 8 were free, I'd recommend everyone with the requisite hardware get it immediately. Since it's not free, you must decide for yourself if it's worth the cost. It is for us.
DealBITS Discount -- Cyberian Outpost is offering Mac OS 8 to TidBITS readers for $95.95, a negotiated $2 discount off its regular $97.95 price.
Article 3 of 5 in series
by Tonya Engst
A number of programs have undergone recent updates in order to fix problems or tweak performance under Mac OS 8. To attempt to list every update would be madness, but in this article I list several recent updates that have caught my eyeShow full article
A number of programs have undergone recent updates in order to fix problems or tweak performance under Mac OS 8. To attempt to list every update would be madness, but in this article I list several recent updates that have caught my eye. In many cases these updates not only improve Mac OS 8 compatibility, but also add improvements of interest to System 7 users.
No Default on Default Folder Updates -- St. Clair Software has been hard at work on Default Folder, a handy utility that enhances Open and Save dialog boxes with several of the features that many have come to rely on in software such as Now Utilities, which has serious problems under Mac OS 8. Any version of Default Folder starting with 2.7.4 runs under Mac OS 8, but the latest version (as of this writing) is 2.7.6. Default Folder is shareware and costs $25. English, German, and Japanese versions are available as 300K downloads.
A Bare Bones Fix -- After noticing instability problems running BBEdit under Mac OS 8 on 68040-based Macintoshes with virtual memory enabled, Bare Bones Software has identified a bug in Mac OS 8. Although Bare Bones expects Apple to fix the problem in a future version of Mac OS 8, the company has released the VM 8.0 fix, an extension that corrects the problem and may improve stability for 68040-based Macs regardless of whether BBEdit is running. The download is a slim 3K in size.
Casady & Greene Catch a Conflict -- Casady & Greene has released CC 4.0.3 Updater v2, which updates Conflict Catcher to version 4.0.3 and corrects a problem wherein users could accidently disable the Appearance Manager and then be unable to start their Macs. A few other minor changes don't relate to Mac OS 8 but slightly improve the user interface. If you already ran the updater, but you downloaded it from 25-Jun-97 to 29-Jun-97, get the CC 4.0.3 Update Fixer, which corrects a few problems with that updater. CC 4.0.3 Updater v2 is about a 750K download; the Update Fixer is about 70K.
Connectix Patches RAM Doubler -- Last Friday, Connectix released the RAM Doubler 2.0.2 updater. The patch solves problems relating to running RAM Doubler while mounting floppy disks on some PowerPC-based Macintoshes or while using a DOS compatibility card with Power Macintosh and Performa 61xx computers. It also makes it so the About This Computer window correctly recognizes RAM Doubler. Finally, the patch increases reliability in Netscape Navigator/Communicator and avoids a problem with an "upcoming Apple PowerBook." The patch is a 234K download.
Norton Utilities Updated -- Symantec has updated four of the utilities that comprise Norton Utilities for Macintosh, each from version 3.5 to version 3.5.1. For Mac OS 8 users, the primary fix prevents Norton Disk Doctor from inaccurately reporting "incorrect Finder settings." Other fixes include Norton Disk Doctor not identifying a "b-tree records out of order" problem reported by Speed Disk, several minor Speed Disk problems, and FileSaver conflicts with "variations of PPP software." In addition, the new version of CrashGuard works better with a number of applications, especially Virtual PC and Netscape Communicator 4. Downloads are available in a number of different formats, with download sizes ranging from 500K to 1 MB.
Toasters Fly Under Mac OS -- In addition to "fixing a problem where After Dark would not work with Mac OS 8," the AD 4.0.3 Updater (a 780K download) corrects problems such as the Screen Posters extension crashing on startup on some PowerPC-based Macs with 601 and 603 processors, the Password on Startup feature failing to function, the speaker volume being mistakenly cranked to the maximum setting, and freezing while rebuilding the desktop.
OneClick Clicks Up -- WestCode Software's OneClick v1.0.3 Updater updates OneClick to version 1.0.3. The new version works with the Appearance Manager and corrects problems with the OneClick menu in the menu bar under Mac OS 8 and the new zoom box on Mac OS 8 windows. The download is 176K.
The Next Best Thing to a Babble Fish -- Apple has released the Language Kit Updater for Mac OS 8, software that makes eight different language kits compatible with Mac OS 8. Also, note the version of Adobe Type Manager that ships with Mac OS 8, version 4.0.2, has fixes in it for several bugs relating to Mac OS 8 and the language kits. The updater consists of two separately downloaded disk images (about 1.5 MB each); the second disk is only required for updating the Arabic Language Kit. The disk images are in Disk Copy 6.1 format.
Novell Nets New NetWare Client Software -- Novell's NetWare Client for Mac OS v5.11 fixes several problems under Mac OS 8, including not being able to log in via the Chooser when using NetWare Encryption and failure when using Open Transport and a NuBus networking card. The download is 164K and contains new versions of NetWare UAM,
NetWare File Access, MacIPX Ethernet, and NetWare Print Chooser.
Adobe Illustrates a Fix -- Although I can't identify any fixes specific to Mac OS 8, I'm including this update anyway. The Adobe Illustrator 7.0.1 Updater updates Illustrator 7.0 and fixes problems including printing Illustrator EPS images from PageMaker and QuarkXPress, opening Illustrator files saved from Illustrator 7.0 in Illustrator 6.0 format, and printing to Scitex imagesetters. The new version also adds new features including JPEG export with image mapping and a diffusion dither in the GIF export.
ObjectSupportLib -- And finally, those of you who have had run-ins with ObjectSupportLib will be pleased to learn the shared library is built into the Mac OS 8 System file, so it's safe to remove any stray copies that may be on your hard disk. I've heard reports of problems if Microsoft Excel attempts to use an older version that's still on the hard disk.
I realize this article is not all-inclusive; for a more complete look at available updates, check out the Compatibility and Bugs section of MacInTouch's Mac OS 8 Special Report.
Article 4 of 5 in series
by Tonya Engst
If you're among the 1.2 million-plus people who have upgraded to Mac OS 8 and you're anything like me, it's taking time to take advantage of its new featuresShow full article
If you're among the 1.2 million-plus people who have upgraded to Mac OS 8 and you're anything like me, it's taking time to take advantage of its new features. One such feature, contextual menus (CM), is easy to miss but worthwhile. Apple intended CM to decrease mouse travel and help users access commands directly given the current context of what they're doing. Contextual menus pop out of icons, windows, and other items when you Control-click them, providing quick access to appropriate commands.
Mac OS 8's built-in contextual menus work in the Finder and contain a few basic commands. For instance, you can trash, label, or make an alias of a file. Or, if you Control-click the Trash, a command appears for emptying it. You can add more capabilities to Mac OS 8's built-in contextual menus by installing plug-ins into the Contextual Menu Items folder, located in the System Folder, and restarting your Mac. Unfortunately, at this time, these plug-ins only work with PowerPC-based Macs; if you have a 68040-based machine, the rest of this article will be more a tease than a help.
Some programs have had features similar to contextual menus for some time, but those efforts are independent from Mac OS 8's contextual menus. Bare Bones Software's BBEdit 4.5 was perhaps the first application to ship with support for Mac OS 8 contextual menus, and it comes with a smattering of built-in commands, plus it can use appropriate plug-ins installed the Contextual Menus Items folder.
Quick Compression -- The first CM commands I added were from Chris DeSalvo's $5 Compression Plug-In 1.0, a slim 13K download that makes it possible to stuff and unstuff files and folders from a contextual menu by way of Aladdin's StuffIt Expander and DropStuff utilities. At first, the Compression Plug-in didn't work; however, the new version 1.0.1 fixed my problem by looking for StuffIt Expander and DropStuff on volumes besides the startup disk.
Internet Address Detectors -- The next additions to my Contextual Menus Items folder came free from Apple in the form of Apple's Internet Address Detectors (IAD). IAD parses a Control-clicked text selection in almost any application and offers possible actions relating to URLs and email addresses in the selection, such as opening a URL or saving it as a bookmark. IAD works with Internet Config, Netscape Navigator, AOL, Internet Explorer, Anarchie, Fetch, Cyberdog, and more, and it comes with an Apple Data Detectors control panel where you can configure it to offer only commands that make sense for Internet software you use. (Note you can expand the control panel's window to see more controls at once.) If IAD doesn't find the correct version of an application, you may be able to fix the problem by rebuilding your desktop.
You also get a new extension, the Contextual Menu Enabler, which adds Mac OS 8 contextual menu capabilities to applications that don't otherwise support them. As you might guess, there are problems with some applications that use the Control key for other purposes. Apple has released a bland tech note that mentions problems in FileMaker and Excel and points the finger squarely at these applications, saying "Apple advised developers not to use the Control key because it was reserved for future use." We users end up in the middle; with luck, either Apple will release a version that accepts custom keyboard shortcuts or software developers will update applications so they are CM savvy.
IAD downloads as a 2.2 MB DiskCopy image; you'll need DiskCopy 6.x (available from the IAD download page) or Aladdin's ShrinkWrap 3.0 to install the software.
Web Publishing Helpers -- I've used Acme CMM Widgets for only a few days, but two of the items may end up in my stable of HTML tools. Written by Acme Technologies, this free package includes three tools in a 39K download: Copy Image Size, ColorFinder CMM, and Clipboard to Clipping. Copy Image Size works in the Finder on any GIF's icon and puts into the clipboard an image tag with height and width attributes for the GIF (JPEG support is planned for a future version). You can then paste the tag into an HTML document. ColorFinder CMM offers an eye dropper tool; with the eye dropper, click any pixel on your screen and ColorFinder CMM puts the HTML or RGB notation for the pixel's color into the clipboard. You can choose from several different tags and notation types. The Clipboard to Clipping tool seems less useful - it creates a text clipping file on the desktop of text in the clipboard.
If you've already downloaded CMM Widgets, Image Tags used to swap the height and width attribute values. The version posted on 17-Sep-97 corrects this problem.
Finder Manipulations -- Trygve's CMM Plug-ins 2.1 include a dozen plug-ins, all written by Trygve Isaacson and available as a $10 shareware package in a 248K download. The plug-ins that interest me the most include: Touch (sets a file or folder's last modified date to now), Simple Strip HTML (removes all HTML tags from a selected HTML file), and Open With (opens selected files with a chosen application). Programmers who want to create their own CM plug-ins might also check out Trygve's CMM Framework, which comes with samples and a template.
More Finder Manipulations -- Finally, there's Stephen Marshall's $10 shareware MacOS8 CMM Expansion Pack 1.0. It downloads in an 84K package that contains two plug-ins: Finder Info and Set Custom Icon. I recommend that most people use Finder Info only with the help of a friend or reference that explains its capabilities; those who are more experienced may enjoy its ability to change Finder information such as invisible and Custom Icon bits. Set Custom Icon is a time saver to those who like to customize their computing experience by assigning custom icons to files and folders.
No Hands -- Due to a piece of software that I'm beta testing, my nervous system expects that a prolonged click will open a CM, instead of a two-handed Control-click. Apparently, I'm not the only one desiring this feature; the folks at Tools & Toys last week released Look Mom, No Hands! a $9 shareware extension that lets you open Contextual Menus by just holding down the mouse button. It's an 80K download, and consumes a mere 10K of RAM when installed. I installed this treasure earlier today, and I'm happily in puppy love. Look Mom, No Hands! only works with icons in the Finder.
Observations -- Contextual menus are changing my computing habits, and I'm liking them more and more. Like a professional waiter, they stay out of the way when I don't want them and pop up quickly when I do. Perhaps the hardest part of working with CM is setting it up - I'd encourage those who write CM plug-ins to give the plug-ins unique names that perhaps include a company name, or perhaps provide extra information in the Get Info window for the plug-in. I already have a few items installed that I can't track back to the makers and that makes it tough to pay the shareware fee.
I've by no means covered all the great contextual menu software out there. Those who wish to explore further or stay up-to-date on new developments might check out CM Central, a site that acts as a download arena, pep rally, and news source for contextual menu tools.
Article 5 of 5 in series
by Tonya Engst
In TidBITS-398, I wrote about how to use and customize contextual menus under Mac OS 8. This week, I want to follow up on that article by noting a utility that offers contextual menus under System 7 (and acts as a CM plug-in for Mac OS 8), look at a few additional CM plug-ins, and agree with readers who noted that one-handed use of CM menus is also possible with a multi-button mouse. Most people writing in about multi-button mice noted their standard use under other operating systems (such as Windows) and their utility when running PC emulation softwareShow full article
In TidBITS-398, I wrote about how to use and customize contextual menus under Mac OS 8. This week, I want to follow up on that article by noting a utility that offers contextual menus under System 7 (and acts as a CM plug-in for Mac OS 8), look at a few additional CM plug-ins, and agree with readers who noted that one-handed use of CM menus is also possible with a multi-button mouse.
Most people writing in about multi-button mice noted their standard use under other operating systems (such as Windows) and their utility when running PC emulation software. Based on the email, many TidBITS readers are enamored with Kensington's input devices. For instance, Ross Yahnke <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
One thing I'd like to mention about contextual menus is that - along with Virtual PC - they provide a good excuse to buy a multi-button mouse. I just got Kensington's Thinking Mouse, a four-button mouse, and as in Windows, have assigned the right button to do contextual menus. It makes using contextual menus much more transparent; I'm figuring it won't be long before Apple ships two-button mice.
Adding Menus to 68K Macs, System 7 -- Covering a collection of utilities in TidBITS usually prompts readers to write in about a wide-ranging collection of other programs that we left out. In this case, almost all comments noted only a few favorites. In particular, I left out Mark Aiken's $15 shareware PowerMenu 2.0.1, which provides menu commands to PowerPC-based Macs using Mac OS 8's Contextual Menus, and - using a different technique than Mac OS 8 - provides its own contextual menus (which only display PowerMenu commands) on Macs running System 7.1 or later and to 68040-based machines running Mac OS 8.
PowerMenu primarily speeds up opening files, launching applications, and organizing the desktop. For instance, it enables you to open selected items in any running application or any application you've added to its Quick Launch option (for example, I added Word 5 so I can consistently use it in favor of Word 6, which I use only occasionally). Another set of commands makes it easy to copy or alias items into appropriate Finder folders (though there's no move option). The Read Me file has useful directions, and the download is 333K.
Another Wonderful Utility -- The vast majority of the comments concerned Eric de la Musse's freeware CMTools 3.0. This utility adds many optional commands to Mac OS 8's Contextual Menus that (like PowerMenu) genuinely ease working in the Finder. For example, if you're like me, active documents accumulate on the desktop and are eventually filed in folders nested down several levels. Though Mac OS 8's spring-loaded folders simplify moving items into folders, CMTools's customizable Copy to and Move to commands seem even simpler.
CMTools has other goodies as well, including Compress and Decompress options, though these require you to make aliases to your compression software and place them in the CMTools Configuration folder; whereas Chris DeSalvo's $5 Compression plug-in (which I noted last week) just works with no special attention. Similar to PowerMenu, an Open Using command enables you to open files in a desired application. There's also a Lock/Unlock option, and commands for setting a file's creator and type attributes. Also like PowerMenu, CMTools requires more setup than most CM plug-ins, but the setup gives you a great deal of flexibility, and Eric has provided clear directions (translated from French to English by Turagd Aleahmad). According to the ReadMe, CMTools doesn't work with QuicKeys Toolbox; however, users of the PowerPC version of QuicKeys 3.5.2 no longer require QuicKeys Toolbox, a fine point that seems to be often missed.
One More to Download -- Last week, I praised Look Mom, No Hands! for its wonderful ability to pop up a contextual menu without a keyboard shortcut. In so distinguishing Look Mom, No Hands!, I left out FinderPop, an optional $7 "pintware" from Turlough O'Connor, which offers the same feature. FinderPop (a 120K download) is a nicely designed control panel that enables you to customize contextual menu appearance (font, size, and more) and adds commands that quickly bring to the front any window open on the desktop, open any mounted volume, or switch to any active application.
Late Breaking News -- Finally, in recent contextual menu news, John Moe has released the freeware IADD, which enables you to turn off Apple's Internet Address Detectors (IAD) in any application that you like, thus avoiding conflicts between those applications and IAD.