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TidBITS#1042/30-Aug-2010

No trends this week - just a lot of interesting news, starting off with Lex Friedman's coverage of the Netflix iPad app's newfound capability to stream Watch Instantly movies to the iPhone and iPod touch too. Glenn Fleishman looks at how you can now place calls using Google Voice in Gmail and how Virgin Mobile has upped the mobile broadband ante with an unlimited cellular data plan that works with the popular MiFi portable Wi-Fi gateway. Glenn also gives the blow-by-blow description of how we were forced to move all our Web services to a Rackspace Cloud Server last week. Then Adam examines the iWork 9.0.4 update, which isn't interesting other than the way it adds EPUB export to Pages, and Tonya runs through all the things you can try doing to speed up an iPhone 3G under iOS 4. Notable software releases this week include MacBook Pro EFI Firmware Update 1.9, Camino 2.0.4, Security Update 2010-005, GraphicConverter 6.7.4, and Freeway 5.5.
 
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Netflix App Now Available for iPhone and iPod touch

  by Lex Friedman <lex@lexfriedman.com>

Since the iPad's launch, Netflix customers have been able to stream movies from that company's Watch Instantly service using the Netflix app. Netflix has now made the app universal, so iPhone and iPod touch owners can join their iPad-wielding compatriots in streaming movies to their iOS devices.

Unfortunately, as with the iPad version of the app, Netflix isn't a perfect iOS citizen. As my friend Dan Moren noted over at Macworld, the app appears to rely on HTML5 for most of its interface - meaning, the app is essentially a view onto a Web page. That's acceptable, but it means that familiar interactions like scrolling through lists and tapping buttons don't feel quite as smooth as they would in a traditional, fully native iPhone app.


That said, I tapped play on a movie, and within seconds it started streaming in excellent quality on my iPhone via Wi-Fi. When I tested it on my 3G connection, Netflix took a bit longer to start streaming, but the quality was still perfectly acceptable.


Worth noting, though, is that the Netflix app isn't optimized for iOS 4; if you switch to another app and then return to Netflix, the app doesn't pick up where you left off in your movie - you must navigate back to the film in question first. In addition, the app lacks any means of managing your DVD queue.

Still - streaming movies! On your iPhone! The coolness factor here is off the charts.

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Place Calls using Google Voice - in Gmail!

  by Glenn Fleishman <glenn@tidbits.com>

Google Voice lets you forward calls to multiple numbers that ring at once, listen in to voicemail as it is being recorded, and bounce strangers into a confirmation stage, all for free. But it could not handle placing calls - until now. Google is rolling out computer-based VoIP calling.

This update offers free VoIP calls within the United States and Canada, although the feature will initially be available only to U.S. Google users. Calls placed to other countries are charged at reasonably low international rates.

Before this update, you would use Google Voice more as a hub for communication with a Google Voice phone number as the entry point. The service lets you associate phone numbers with an account, and choose behavior based on Caller ID, time of day, and other factors for what happens when someone calls the Google Voice number. It also offers free U.S. text messaging, and voicemail - along with hilariously weird voicemail transcription. (A message from my wife the other day read, "We've had a knife... Mark emergency in Indiana.")

You could place calls that would ring on one of your associated numbers, but you still had to have a phone nearby to make that work. (See "Google Voice Opens to All Americans," 22 June 2010.)

But because Google seemingly forgets which product is which, the site you use to make Google Voice calls is... Gmail. Yes, that's right. The webmail app that brought you Google Buzz and Google Chat (audio, video, and text) now brings you phone calls. Why not within, say, Google Voice? It's hard to understand that decision. (Sure, Google Chat is found within Gmail, and activating "real" phone calls there makes sense, but not as the first and only method to use it.)

You need to install Google's voice and video plug-in to use Google Voice in Gmail. Log in to your Gmail account, click Settings, and then the Chat tab, and follow the instructions there. With that set up, you will see a Call Phones item in Google Chat once Google activates the service for your account.

Google's new offering competes directly with Skype, which charges fees to have an inbound phone number (or more than one) associated with your Skype account, and has a fixed-rate U.S./Canada calling plans. Skype does offer one notable advantage so far: it's available for iOS devices, and Google Voice still remains missing there.

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Virgin Mobile Offers Unlimited Cellular Data Plan

  by Glenn Fleishman <glenn@tidbits.com>
  2 comments

The options for getting mobile broadband more cheaply for your laptop, iPhone, and 3G iPad keep multiplying as carriers want to take advantage of a growing market. Virgin Mobile joins the fray with a $40-per-month, 30-day service plan with unlimited usage that's now available.

Just two months ago, Virgin Mobile - a division of Sprint Nextel - began offering the MiFi cellular router without a contract for $150. Service plans started at $10, and worked with either the MiFi or a USB modem compatible with Mac OS X and Windows. (See "Virgin Mobile Offers MiFi Mobile Hotspot without Contract," 28 June 2010.)

But the plans topped out at the same rate charged by carriers for laptop plans: $60 for up to 5 GB used in a 30-day cycle, and there was no automatic renewal or billing. In my article at the time, I explained how the flexibility of Virgin's offering could be the right combination for someone travelling with one or more iOS devices and a laptop, rather than using AT&T's iPhone iOS 4 tethering ($45 per month including 2 GB of usage), or a MiFi from Sprint or Verizon, which requires a two-year contract.

This new $40-per-month deal is extraordinary, and Virgin Mobile lists no restrictions on its offer page. This seems to be a terrific alternative to iPhone tethering or 3G iPad plans.

The Virgin Mobile MiFi connects to Sprint Nextel's 3G network, which operates more slowly than AT&T's top rates in principle, but isn't that far off in practice. AT&T has plans to double its raw 3G rates by year's end. (Sprint has a far faster 4G network, run by its Clearwire division, that reaches about 50 million people.)

AT&T requires that you have its 2 GB DataPro plan ($25 per month) to use tethering ($20 per month). The DataPro plan costs $10 per 1 GB used above 2 GB in a 30-day billing cycle. The cheaper DataPlus plan, at $15 per month for 200 MB of data, costs $30 less than the DataPro with tethering option. (AT&T does let you switch your service plan level and turn tethering on and off at will, instead of requiring a new contract or other limits.)

Beyond the limited service, iPhone tethering is also irritating in comparison to using the MiFi, requiring the right combination of elements to make it work. If you want to use more than one device, you have to employ a wonky workaround (Internet Sharing in Mac OS X set to share the tethered connection). The MiFi can share its connection with up to five Wi-Fi devices at once.

Sprint's 3G network currently has about the same coverage as AT&T, reaching roughly 80 percent of the U.S. population. If you're out of Sprint's area, the company roams you onto Verizon's network, but limits you to no more than 300 MB of Verizon service in a billing period - something that's nearly impossible to know in advance.

Virgin Mobile doesn't note this limitation, and says it uses only the Sprint 3G network, which may mean you could be without coverage in Verizon-only territory.

But Sprint has coverage in all major and medium-sized cities, as well as at airports. The tens of millions of people living in smaller towns and exurbs that are served by Verizon with 3G but not Sprint are the ones who would encounter this particular dearth.

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TidBITS's Emergency Brain Transplant

  by Glenn Fleishman <glenn@tidbits.com>

The patient was having erratic symptoms. Sometimes he'd be happily waddling along or warming his egg beneath his feet. Other times, he'd keel over, flapping one wing frantically before losing consciousness for hours at a time, causing great consternation.

Our beloved Opus, an Intel-based Xserve of a couple years' experience, has been acting increasingly oddly over the last few weeks. That's okay (if sad) for a penguin or a person, but not so much for a Web server that handles content and ecommerce, that has thousands of daily users, and from which several of us derive significant parts of our incomes. (We actually operate an older PowerPC-based Xserve as well, but it's no longer used for mission-critical operations.)

These errors had already gotten Adam Engst and me talking about the possibility of unleashing ourselves from owning hardware, but it all came to a head last Monday, with Opus suffering inexplicable slowdowns, freezes, and disk errors. That's bad enough on a Mac you can touch, but Opus was colocated at digital.forest, and while the folks at digital.forest are great, there's a limit to what you can ask support technicians to do for you. For example, in an effort to get the TidBITS issue out, disk errors on the boot disk forced Adam, for the second week in a row, to clone the boot disk to a secondary disk, restart from that secondary disk, and repair the errors on the former boot disk.

While Adam fought to keep Opus alive a bit longer, I started preparations for our expedition - up in the air! Rather, into the cloud: the ambiguously defined notion of locating your resources in servers you can neither see nor touch and that may in fact be entirely virtual collections of resources formed into what looks like a server from the outside.

I've been experimenting with Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) for some time, and I and TidBITS have used Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3), but EC2 isn't a good fit for us. I've been a Unix and Linux system administrator for over 15 years, but I'm not an IT guy. Amazon's services are well designed for people who understand how to build and use an infrastructure. Using EC2 and Amazon's associated resources is a bit like a builder sourcing every nail, stud, and tile, but then telling someone remotely how to put a house together.

Instead, we opted for Rackspace's Cloud Servers, which offer a similar service designed with someone exactly like me in mind. Rackspace has fewer options, but fewer can be better if just the right ones are included. We opted for a 2 GB virtual server, which comes with 80 GB of storage, 40 Mbps of bandwidth, and 2 CPU cores. The monthly fee is about $88, with an additional per-GB rate for bandwidth ($0.22 for each outbound GB and 8 cents for each inbound GB).

Rackspace uses virtualized servers, just like Amazon, but offers a simplified console, and much less fuss. I had my first disk up in a few minutes, logged in via the command line, and rapidly configured the Linux distribution I'd chosen. You still have to know how to beat a Linux (or Windows) system into the form you want, but it's incredibly easy compared to any previous approach I've used. Within a few hours I had the basics of the system working, and after a few more hours the next day, we were ready to repoint our DNS to the virtual server.

Rackspace's simplified approach has competition too. A Twitter colleague mentioned Slicehost and Linode. Both are cheaper for the same system (they both include bandwidth in monthly fees), but we knew Rackspace and didn't have time to kick tires. And should we need to move again, it seems likely that it would be even easier the next time.

The nice part of the migration is that we've built our operations well enough that we could move from a Mac OS X Server system to a CentOS Linux virtual machine with only a handful of changes in our files. You always hope that planning for future eventualities is worthwhile, and in this case it was.

Obviously, although we've tested our TidBITS and Take Control Web sites and ancillary services, it's entirely possible there's something that isn't working that we've missed. If so, just drop us a note and we'll fix it.

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iWork 9.0.4 Gives Pages EPUB Support

  by Adam C. Engst <ace@tidbits.com>
  5 comments

Apple has released iWork 9.0.4, fixing a few bugs and extending Pages to be able to export the EPUB format used by the iBookstore. Bugs fixed in Keynote include problems printing handouts with rule lines, the slide switcher, and automatically resizing some images while changing slide size. In addition, Keynote, Numbers, and Pages all receive a fix for a bug related to tables. The update is 63.44 MB, and is available via Software Update or directly from Apple's Support Downloads page.

But the far more interesting news is that Apple has added support for the standard EPUB file format for electronic books to Pages, so it's now possible to export an EPUB from Pages. The reason this is interesting is that despite the fuss about EPUB, the tools available to create EPUB have been extremely limited, falling into four basic categories:

In her book "EPUB Straight to the Point," our friend Liz Castro provides oodles of useful information about building EPUBs in both InDesign and Word (where you're really saving your file as HTML, and then manipulating the HTML file in a variety of tweaky ways to create an EPUB). Liz sells the book (as an EPUB-formatted ebook, natch) directly, or you can buy it in print through Amazon.com or any of the usual suspects. Since it's the sort of book you'll need to reference frequently while working, you'll either want the print version or an iPad for the ebook version; the content isn't well suited to the small iPhone screen.

So where does Pages fall? I haven't had much time to play with its EPUB capabilities yet, but it looks like a serious contender in the WYSIWYG editing and EPUB export category. To be clear, Pages cannot open or import an EPUB file, so it's useful only for exporting in EPUB format. (Luckily, Pages can import Word files quite well, so you may not be entirely out of luck if your documents are in Word format.)

Apple has published a Knowledgebase article on the topic that offers an overview of EPUB and PDF, and how to create an EPUB file with Pages. Although you can create an EPUB simply by exporting any existing Pages document, the results may not be ideal unless you start from a sample document that Apple makes available on the Web (it's not included with Pages 9.0.4, oddly). The sample document can be used as a template or you can copy its styles into your document. Liza Daly, one of the world's EPUB experts, has examined the template, and is generally positive about what Apple has done, identifying only one notable problem in the XHTML output.

As a quick test, I imported the Word manuscript of Tonya's "Take Control of iPad Basics" ebook into Pages, and immediately exported it as an EPUB. Almost shockingly, it was pretty darn good on the iPad. A number of internal navigation links were lost on import, but Pages retained the look and feel of our design, properly recognized the table of contents, dealt properly with Web links, and had no trouble with graphics. And when I ran the file through the EPUB validation tool that Liza Daly's Threepress Consulting makes available, it passed with no errors.

With this new EPUB export added to all the commenting and change tracking features that have appeared in recent versions, Pages may now rank as real competition for Microsoft Word for serious writing. Of course, with Office 2011 due out in a few months, Microsoft has a chance to up the ante, but Apple can't be far from releasing a major update to iWork as well.

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Speed Up Your iOS 4-Based iPhone 3G

  by Tonya Engst <tonya@tidbits.com>
  4 comments

Apple's iOS 4, released only a few months ago roughly in concert with the iPhone 4, works not only on the iPhone 4, and the previous generation iPhone 3GS, but also on the iPhone 3G; the original iPhone can't run it. But to judge from vociferous complaints from iPhone 3G users online, Apple was perhaps overly optimistic in providing backward compatibility with the iPhone 3G.

If you have an iPhone 3G running Apple's older iPhone operating system - which was called iPhone OS 3, but has been retroactively renamed iOS 3 - I suggest that you not install the iOS 4 update. If you do, you'll likely notice slowdowns across the board, especially with opening apps, switching screens, and using the onscreen keyboard. Rumor fueled by an alleged email message from Steve Jobs suggests that Apple will address the problem in a future release of iOS 4, but as of version 4.0.2, using an iPhone 3G with iOS 4 remains painful for many people.

This is particularly troublesome because the iPhone 3G was for sale until the iPhone 4 shipped, and because it's non-trivial to downgrade to the previous iOS 3.1.3 version. When Apple has released versions of Mac OS X that turn out not to work well on older Macs, those Macs are often several years past their sell-by date, and, regardless, you can always revert to whatever version of Mac OS X shipped with that particular model. Besides, not only was the iPhone 3G so recently for sale, but it came with a 2-year contract, so users are locked into using it.

What follows are ideas for maximizing the speed of an iPhone 3G that's running iOS 4. I've tried all but the last idea personally. Restoring from recovery mode finally did help, but I think that restoring my backed-up apps and data caused me to lose most of the gain I'd achieved. However, I've read hundreds of comments online from frustrated iPhone 3G users, so I know that the several-second pauses that I was initially complaining about are not nearly as problematic as the 10-second pauses experienced by others, and those longer delays may be easier to reduce. I've listed the ideas in the order that I think would be most sensible to try them.

Do a Hard Reset Twice -- This action erases various caches and buffers, giving your iPhone a fresh start in some respects. To proceed, press both the Home button and the Sleep/Wake button for 5 to 10 seconds. Continue pressing them as the "slide to power off" slider appears (don't use it) and the iPhone powers off. Release the buttons. Now:

Either way, rebooting may take several minutes.

After it reboots, the iPhone displays its usual Home screen. (If you aren't paying attention during a long reboot, you'll have a black screen, because the iPhone will have gone to sleep. In that case, press Home to activate the screen.)

You've now done a single hard reset, so repeat the procedure, which will ensure that the iPhone's internal caches and buffers are squeaky clean. (Or it may just be modern day voodoo.)

Shutter Spotlight -- Spotlight is the search engine behind the search options available on the leftmost page of the iPhone's Home screen. Since Spotlight is indexing the contents of your iPhone, turning it off may free up some system resources and improve performance.

To turn off the search options, tap Settings > General > Home Button > Spotlight Search. Then, on the Spotlight Search screen, tap any checked items to remove the checkmarks. Do a single hard reset to clear memory and start fresh.

Close Extra Pages in Safari -- These pages may be using valuable memory that could be better used elsewhere in the system. Open the Safari app, and notice the icon at the lower right of the screen. A badge on the icon indicates how many Web pages you have open in Safari (in the screenshot below, I have two open pages). Tap the icon to view a thumbnail of each page, floating on a scrollable screen. For each page except the last one remaining, tap the red X button to close it. Finally, perform a single hard reset to clear memory and start fresh. (If you use a Web browser other than Safari, trying this tip - or its nearest equivalent, such as closing extra tabs - in your browser seems like a good idea, too.)


If closing extra pages helps your iPhone's performance, you'll need to close extra pages every time you quit Safari, which is a pain, unless you use the information in the next tip.

Pay Attention to Memory Use -- You may find it useful to track how much memory is available on the iPhone using a memory-monitoring app, such as Gary Fung's free Memory Sweep (oddly, on the iPhone itself, it's called Scan). If you check the app periodically, and especially whenever you notice performance lagging, you may be able to identify a usage pattern that causes problems.

For instance, a blog post about the topic from Andrews Technology, "How I fixed my iPhone 3G lag," reported seeing better performance and more free memory after closing all pages in Safari, as recommended above.

Even better, Memory Sweep has two buttons, Free Memory Moderately and Free Maximum Memory. Tapping the first button seems to clear Safari's page cache (the page thumbnail images are blank on the next load), and whatever the second one does, it takes Safari even longer to start the next time. It strikes me that there could be cons to using these buttons, but Apple did approve the app!

Disable MMS -- Some folks have reported that turning off MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) makes a huge difference. MMS is used in the Messages app, and where SMS (Short Message Service) messages contain just text, MMS messages can contain photos, audio, and video. To turn MMS off, tap Settings > Messages and tap the switch to turn off MMS Messaging. Finally, perform a single hard reset to clear memory and start fresh.

Restore from Recovery Mode -- This procedure has five steps. Make sure you have a few spare hours for this task and that you feel comfortable with all the directions before you begin.

  1. Back up your iPhone's contents. Apple details this process in the Knowledgebase article "How to backup your data and set up as a new device." You may not need to do everything in the article, depending on your situation.

  2. Put your iPhone in recovery mode. While the iPhone is connected to your computer via USB and visible in the iTunes sidebar, hold down the Home button and the Sleep/Wake button for 10 seconds. Then release the Sleep/Wake button only. After a short pause, a dialog indicates that iTunes has detected an iPhone in recovery mode. Click OK.

  3. Restore the iPhone. With the iPhone selected in the iTunes sidebar, click the Restore button on the right. Proceed with the restoration and be sure to click set up the phone as a new device, when asked.

  4. Test to see if the iPhone is working better with a factory default installation of apps and settings.

  5. If you like, restore your backup from Step 1. This may reintroduce the problem, and if it does, you can decide whether you'd prefer to live with the problem, or redo Steps 2 and 3 and then set the phone up from scratch while making frequent backups in case the problem occurs again.

Downgrade to iOS 3 -- If you have a few hours to spare, you may wish to revert to iOS 3. Proceed with care. Unfortunately, this process is not supported by Apple, although the worst that's likely to happen is that you'll have to reinstall iOS 4.

The directions I've seen for downgrading look fine for geeks but sketchy for regular people. Check Lifehacker for full instructions. You might also want to read Chris Breen's commentary on their instructions at Macworld.

Wait Patiently -- Realistically, none of these are great solutions, and given that Apple officially offers iOS 4 for the iPhone 3G, the ball is in Apple's court. The company has remained mum about the issue, with the only break in the silence being an alleged four-word email message from Steve Jobs in response to a user's complaint: "Software update coming soon." Assuming that message is legitimate, whether that update is iOS 4.1, currently in testing, or something further out remains unknown.

But if the iPhone 3G performance problems aren't solved in the very near future, Apple should acknowledge the issue and provide official instructions for iPhone 3G owners to downgrade to the perfectly functional iOS 3.1.3 until the fix is available. Anything else shows a complete lack of regard for the user experience for iPhone 3G owners, something that a company as obsessed with details as Apple should be ashamed of.

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TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 30 August 2010

  by TidBITS Staff <editors@tidbits.com>

MacBook Pro EFI Firmware Update 1.9 -- Apple has released EFI Firmware Update 1.9 for mid-2010 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pros. The update addresses a rare issue where the Mac could freeze during startup or stall during use. The update also improves compatibility with external displays. Your computer must be connected to a power source to install the firmware update, and Apple warns users not to turn off the MacBook Pro while the update installs. (Free update, 2.16 MB)

Read/post comments about MacBook Pro EFI Firmware Update 1.9.

Camino 2.0.4 -- The Mozilla-backed Camino Project has released Camino 2.0.4, an update to the open-source Web browser that's more Mac-like than Firefox. The incremental update upgrades to the latest 1.9.0 version of the Gecko rendering engine, which includes several critical security and stability fixes. In addition, the Camino 2.0.4 update prevents a Flash 10.1 crash when you trigger Exposé while watching Flash video full-screen. Other fixes include tweaks to better remember print settings, improve behavior in the location bar, and improve the browser's capability to block Flash animation and Web advertisements. (Free, 15.8 MB)

Read/post comments about Camino 2.0.4.

Security Update 2010-005 -- Apple has released Security Update 2010-005, addressing an assortment of vulnerabilities in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and 10.6 Snow Leopard. Several of the fixes included in the update address various ways maliciously crafted files could lead to the dreaded "arbitrary code execution" that is the hallmark of many computer attacks. Mac OS X's handling of fonts, PDF files, and PNG files (the last only when accessed via PHP under Snow Leopard and Snow Leopard Server) was patched to block such vulnerabilities.

The update also updates ClamAV (in Leopard Server and Snow Leopard Server only) to block other potential arbitrary code execution risks. In both the server and regular editions, Mac OS X's CFNetwork framework was fixed; it could previously fall victim to "man-in-the-middle" attacks through anonymous SSL/TLS connections.

In addition, Apple updated libsecurity to prevent domain name trickery, patched Samba to prevent a buffer overflow that could allow a denial-of-service attack or arbitrary code execution, and upgraded PHP to version 5.3.2 to address multiple vulnerabilities in the popular scripting language.

Security Update 2010-005 is available via Software Update, which is generally the easiest method of acquiring it. You can also download the update directly for Leopard (211.88 MB), Leopard Server (418.92 MB), Snow Leopard (80.63 MB), and Snow Leopard Server (136.86 MB).

Read/post comments about Security Update 2010-005.

GraphicConverter 6.7.4 -- Lemkesoft has updated its flagship image-manipulation tool GraphicConverter to version 6.7.4. The significant 6.7 update earlier this year added the capability to import a variety of new image formats, including scrap files, HMR, dm2 and dm3, and direct SVG via PDF. Also new in 6.7 was added support for the AppleScript command "search with spotlight." Since that release, GraphicConverter has seen a few minor updates, adding more support for exporting QuickTime movies, importing larger TIFFs, exporting GIF animations as filmstrips, importing FUJI files, integrating with the Google Earth Safari plug-in, and the capability to undo actions even after changing your selection.

The recent update to 6.7.4 adds an option to scale after crop, PDN preview display, and a sepia batch action. Issues with color profiles, Unicode support, and 1080p and animation scaling were also addressed. See Lemkesoft's Web site for full release notes on all that has changed since 6.7.

Multiple versions of GraphicConverter are available for download; you can choose English-only editions, PowerPC-only editions, or the standard universal and localized edition. ($34.95 new, free upgrade, 100 MB)

Read/post comments about GraphicConverter 6.7.4.

Freeway 5.5 -- Softpress Systems has updated its Web design tool Freeway to version 5.5. Significant new features include Showcase (which lets you create image galleries or slideshows with minimal effort), support for SFTP and FTP-SSL, integration with the Amazon Associates affiliate program, and simplified HTML email creation. In addition to those new features in both the Pro and Express editions, the Pro edition of Freeway also gains a pair of new actions: the Relative Page Layout action converts absolute layouts into relative, resizable layouts instead, and the new Simple Site Search action lets you set up a search form on your site without needing a scripting language. Freeway 5.5 requires Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard or later. ($69/$229 new for Express/Pro, $25/$49 upgrades from 5.x to 5.5, free upgrade for purchases since 1 June 2010)

Read/post comments about Freeway 5.5.

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ExtraBITS for 30 August 2010

  by TidBITS Staff <editors@tidbits.com>

As school starts for college students, we note that iTunes U downloads have passed the 300 million mark and that Seton Hall University is relying on Art Authority for iPad for several art history classes. Also, Garmin is recalling 1.25 million nüvi GPS navigation units, and Lex Friedman opines at Macworld about the effect of royalty-free H.264 video.

iTunes U Downloads Exceed 300 Million -- Apple last week announced that iTunes U content downloads have rolled past the 300 million mark. iTunes U doesn't get much press, but the division of the iTunes Store brings together audio and video educational content from hundreds of universities; it now contains over 350,000 lectures and other content from institutions of higher learning around the globe. Apple deserves kudos for providing iTunes U content for free, and if you haven't yet checked out the iTunes U section of the iTunes Store, we encourage you to do so.

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Will Royalty-Free H.264 Revolutionize Web Video? Over at Macworld, Lex Friedman spends more than 1,000 words talking about video codecs. But it's not all nerd-speak. MPEG LA has announced that it will never charge royalties for free H.264 videos. That's important because HTML5 video, which lets you watch Web video without requiring plug-ins like Flash, is currently difficult for publishers and consumers alike, with different browsers providing limited support for different codecs. While H.264 - which Apple already supports in both Safari and Mobile Safari - already has buy-in from major media companies like CNN, Major League Baseball, and YouTube, this announcement could very well spark a unification of HTML5 video formats.

Read/post comments

Garmin Recalls 1.25 Million nüvi GPS Devices -- Garmin is voluntarily recalling about 1.25 million nüvi GPS devices, nearly 800,000 of which were sold in the United States. The recall is to address a problem with the battery that could cause the device to overheat and become a fire hazard. Affected units include the nüvi 200W, 250W, 260W, and 7xx (where xx is a two-digit number), though apparently not the 255W we reviewed in 2008. Fewer than 10 cases of overheating have been identified, but Garmin will replace the battery and insert a spacer before returning your GPS, free of charge.

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Art Authority for iPad Helps Seton Hall Students -- Seton Hall University, which is providing free iPads to all fulltime students, has now announced a collaboration with We-Envision.com, creators of the Art Authority for iPad app, under which art history students will use the app as an integral part of classes this semester. Seton Hall's pilot program is aimed at understanding how the iPad can be used to aid, extend, and transform the traditional learning environment, and it will be interesting to see how Art Authority enables the students to go beyond the usual uses of the iPad as a stand-in for a paper textbook.

Read/post comments

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