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Steve Jobs has introduced a new $999 iMac and the iMac DV with FireWire and video editing capabilities, all with faster processors, revamped audio, dual USB, and transparent cases. Also in this issue, Matt Neuburg looks at Style Master, a tool for authoring Cascading Style Sheets for the Web, Adam continues examining how MP3 is changing his relationship to music, and we note new releases of Norton Utilities, Norton AntiVirus, Palm Desktop, and the results of our first poll.
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Mac OS 9 to Be Released 23-Oct-99 -- Apple Computer has announced that Mac OS 9 will be available in stores in the U.S. and Canada beginning 23-Oct-99 for an estimated retail price of $99. Apple is billing Mac OS 9 as "your Internet co-pilot" and promoting Sherlock 2, which features an interface similar to the little-loved QuickTime Player and offers "channels" focussed on your local computer or on Internet-related activities like news, reference, and shopping. Mac OS 9 will also mark the return of the Keychain (a single utility that securely manages passwords for Internet sites, local servers, and even application programs), built-in data encryption features, basic multi-user capabilities that allow multiple users to share a single Macintosh more easily, enhanced speech recognition capabilities (though not the long-awaited continuous speech recognition), and Internet-based updating of system components. Apple has published a detailed Tech Note outlining many of the changes in Mac OS 9; under-the-hood improvements may cause compatibility problems for some font management utilities and programs that directly access low-level disk structures. Internationalized versions of Mac OS 9 should appear during the coming months. Users in the U.S. and Canada who recently purchased Mac OS 8.5 or a qualifying new Macintosh may be able to upgrade to Mac OS 9 for $20. [GD]
Palm Desktop 2.5 Expands HotSync & USB Support -- Although not officially announced, the latest version of Palm Computing's Palm Desktop for Macintosh is now available for download. (See "Palm Desktop Marks Return of Familiar Organizer" in TidBITS-469.) Version 2.5 adds greater control over switching between multiple users synchronizing their Palm organizers on the same Mac and makes it easier to access the HotSync Manager settings. The update also supports USB connections using Palm's new PalmConnect USB Kit, a $40 serial adapter for users of USB-equipped computers. Other improvements include the ability to disable onscreen alarms (though the alarm dialog boxes are still modal if you choose to leave the feature activated), and an iMessenger email conduit for owners of the wireless Palm VII. Palm Desktop for Macintosh 2.5 is a free 6.8 MB download. [JLC]
Symantec Ships NAV 6.0 and NUM 5.0 -- Symantec is now shipping updates to its well-known anti-virus and software disk utilities, the $70 Norton AntiVirus for Macintosh 6.0 (which replaces the now-unsupported Symantec AntiVirus for Macintosh) and the $100 Norton Utilities for Macintosh 5.0. Both programs now integrate with each other, feature Symantec's LiveUpdate technology for downloading both program updates from the Internet and new virus definitions (free for one year, $4 per year after that), and support USB and FireWire devices. Improvements in Norton AntiVirus 6.0 also include faster scanning, enhanced and persistent reporting, automatic boot-block repair, and a Norton Utilities-like interface. (Be sure to read the Norton AntiVirus release notes for some known issues with common utilities like Aladdin's True Finder Integration and Netopia's Timbuktu Pro.) New features in Norton Utilities include the capability to run Norton Disk Doctor from the hard disk in almost all cases, an Undo feature that restores any changes made by Norton Disk Doctor, optimization of B-tree disk structures within Speed Disk, and an "All file types" option in UnErase.
Both Norton AntiVirus and Norton Utilities require a PowerPC-based Mac with Mac OS 8.0 or later and 24 MB of RAM. Thirty-day trial versions of both programs are available. Upgrades to Norton AntiVirus cost $30 for owners of Norton AntiVirus, Norton Utilities, or competitive anti-virus products. Upgrades to Norton Utilities cost $50 for current users and users of competitive utilities. [ACE]
Maxum Updates NetCloak, Rumpus, & PageSentry -- Maxum Development has released updates to three of its Internet server tools, NetCloak, Rumpus, and PageSentry. NetCloak is the longest-standing tool for processing Web forms and creating dynamic functionality on Mac OS Web servers; version 3.0.2 improves NetCloak's processing of incoming mail and handling of international data. Version 1.3.3 of Maxum's well-regarded FTP server Rumpus gains the capability to move files between directories and corrects a rare problem launching on particular systems. PageSentry is a standalone program designed to monitor Internet servers and take specific actions - like sending an email message, calling a pager, running a script - in case they stop responding. PageSentry 2.5.2 rolls in a number of bug fixes and includes audible warnings when servers fail to respond. All these updates are free to registered users and include a revised validation mechanism which should make future upgrades easier. [GD]
Poll Results: StuffIt Expander 5 Wins -- In the first poll after introducing our new poll and quiz capabilities, we asked what utility you used to decode files from the Internet. We were curious to what extent StuffIt Expander 5.x, which is necessary to expand the new StuffIt 5.0 file format, had replaced previous versions. We also wanted to see if MindVision's upstart MindExpander had acquired a significant share of the market since its recent official release. Results from the more than 1,700 responses surprised us slightly - we hadn't expected StuffIt Expander 5.x to rack up more than 75 percent of the vote. StuffIt Expander 4.x pulled 14 percent, and MindExpander managed 4 percent. Only a few people use StuffIt Expander 3.0, Compact Pro, or other utilities. Again, these results aren't scientific but still prove fascinating. [ACE]
Quiz Preview: Apple's International Market -- It's sometimes difficult for those of us in the United States to expand our horizons beyond this country. So, in our first quiz, test your knowledge of the Macintosh market and tell us what percentage of Apple's sales you think come from outside of the U.S. We suspect plenty of readers will be surprised by the answer. [ACE]
by Geoff Duncan <email@example.com>
Steve Jobs introduced two new iMac computers at an invitation-only event in Cupertino last week. The new iMac models lower the initial price point for buying a Macintosh, add some new and welcome capabilities, sport fully transparent cases, and improve the iMac's "cool factor" relative to competition from inexpensive PCs.
Basic iMac -- The new low-end iMac sports a list price of $999, making it (barely) the iMac's first foray into the sub-$1,000 market. The new system also features a 350 MHz G3 processor with 512K of backside cache, a 100 MHz system bus, a standard 64 MB of RAM, a 6 GB hard disk, and an ATI RAGE 128 VR 2D/3D graphics controller with 8 MB of VRAM. The iMac retains the 15-inch shadow-mask display from earlier models - along with a 56 Kbps modem and 10/100 Base-T Ethernet - but adds a redesigned transparent blueberry case which exposes internal components to full view. One internal component you won't see, however, is a fan: the new iMacs are cooled by convection, making the computers considerably quieter than earlier models. Like the recently introduced iBook, the new iMacs support optional AirPort cards for wireless networking. The CD-ROM drive has also changed to a slot-loading mechanism like a car stereo, so there are no more awkward CD trays to bump or damage. (There's also no eject button; to eject a CD at startup, hold down the mouse button.)
A slot-loading CD-ROM isn't the only thing iMacs are borrowing from automotive systems: the new iMacs also feature a Harman/Kardon Odyssey stereo sound system, offering greater audio fidelity and bass response. Harmon/Kardon will also sell a 6-inch iMac-colored subwoofer called the iSub. The iSub is a USB device: the new iMac supports USB audio, so the audio data remains fully digital until it gets to the speakers, providing greater flexibility and less loss of fidelity due to interference or poor audio connections. The new iMacs have dual-channel USB, like Apple's Power Macintosh G4 systems, so audio running over USB can be on a separate bus from data coming from other USB peripherals like storage devices or scanners - otherwise, audio might stutter or pause when other peripherals are in use.
For the terminally trivia-minded, the iMac (Slot Loading) is not Apple's first computer priced under $1,000. That honor goes to the oft-scorned Mac Classic, which nine years ago was available in a bare-bones configuration for $999.
iMac DV -- Jobs also announced the iMac DV, which is a souped-up version of the slot-loading iMac aimed at digital video aficionados. The iMac DVs start at $1,299 and feature 400 MHz G3 processors, a slot-loading DVD-ROM drive, a 10 GB hard disk, two 400 Mbps FireWire ports for connecting to external devices like DV video cameras, a VGA video output for video mirroring on an external monitor, and the full selection of the fruit-colored cases that have become emblematic of the iMac line. At the high end of the iMac line is the iMac DV Special Edition, featuring 128 MB RAM standard, a 13 GB hard disk, a graphite colored case matching Apple's new Power Mac G4 line, and a $1,499 price tag.
All the iMac DV systems come with iMovie, new consumer-oriented video editing software derived from Apple's professional-level Final Cut Pro. iMovie will be available only with the iMac DV systems. iMovie permits full control of FireWire-capable video cameras and easy drag & drop authoring of video clips with music and titles, all with a brushed metal interface unfortunately reminiscent of the QuickTime 4 Player.
Apple apparently hopes the iMac DV will reveal a market for consumer video editing it has been trying to find for more than three years, beginning with Performa 6400 video editing systems. Although over eight million DV camcorders have shipped, high bandwidth network access is becoming more widespread, and iMovie is decidedly easier to use than the Avid VideoShop package in earlier offerings, in my experience consumers want to edit video about as much as they want to mark up HTML pages using SimpleText. It's unclear whether video editing technology has come down far enough in price and complexity for a consumer system to be a broadly successful product.
The Name Game -- Apple has improved iMac naming conventions by christening the new DV series, giving us a way to distinguish DV systems from other iMacs, previously differentiated by clock speed, color, and confusing "Rev" lettering. (See "Macintosh Model Implosion" What's in a Name" in TidBITS-485.) Unfortunately, Apple uses the term "Slot Loading" to describe both the new low-end iMac and the DV systems in its technical documentation, creating new terminology confusion. Since Apple seems to be releasing revised iMac models every few months, it would help folks in sales, technical support, and software development if Apple were to introduce a naming scheme which could uniquely identify major revisions of the iMac line.
Still Improving -- Although the iMac DV might not be for everybody, there's little denying the $999 souped-up iMac represents a significant enhancement that appeals to the same sort of folks who have made the iMac such a runaway success: consumers, students, schools, and businesses. While the rest of the computer industry still seems to be trying to convince itself the iMac's success isn't a fluke, Apple continues to prove it can deliver a great value with style. And that's fine with me.
by Matt Neuburg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the early days of the Web, a common complaint was HTML's insufficient control over how a browser would display the layout and appearance of a document. Tricks with tables and font tags helped, but the real solution, which has been emerging gradually for several years, is Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Style sheets let you specify such things as the size of text, the spacing and margins of paragraphs, and the positioning of graphics. Unfortunately, style sheets are complicated to use: the options for different elements can be hard to remember, and worse, different Web browsers support different standards and sometimes support them incorrectly. You can consult a book, code by hand, and test painstakingly; or you can let Style Master make your life easy. Style Master 1.5.1 comes from Western Civilisation; like their Palimpsest (which I reviewed in TidBITS-364) demonstrates clean, original interface design.
Each main window represents a style sheet; you can have multiple style sheets open. You edit style information through dialogs and floating windows where your options are obvious; the results are translated into style sheet syntax and displayed in the main window. The real magic starts when you ask to preview your styles: Style Master displays, in all your open browsers simultaneously, a particular style component (using sample text), or, even better, an entire HTML document of your own, to which it has applied the entire style sheet! Your original HTML is untouched, and Style Master makes a new temporary copy on every preview, so it's easy to tweak and test both your styles and your HTML document. When you're done, Style Master can either add the style sheet link to your original document, ready to serve along with the style sheet itself, or it can embed the style sheet into the document.
There's so much help you could plotz. There's balloon help. There are Help windows explaining each particular aspect of style sheets. There are warnings if you do something that a browser might not support. There is dialog text describing the meaning of selectors as you create them. There is superb documentation (using HTML which itself demonstrates style sheets): a Quickstart that really does get you started quickly, a complete manual, a hands-on tutorial, and a handbook on style sheets. Western Civilisation has also made its Web site a major reference on style sheets, well worth visiting.
Although I have some quibbles with inconvenient interface elements, and the misspellings in the manuals pain me, I still like everything about this program, right down to the clever purchase policy. You download a 2.4 MB time-limited demo (15 days of use, not necessarily consecutive) that you can test and ultimately register either as Style Master or as Style Master Pro. Style Master costs $29; Style Master Pro, unlike any browser known to me, supports the next-generation style sheet standard, CSS2, and costs $39 until 20-Oct-99, $49 thereafter. Style Master requires a Power PC-based Macintosh, System 7.1.2 or later. A full installation is about 7 MB, and it uses 8.5 MB of RAM.
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
In the first part of this article I looked at some basics of MP3 and how I started to become a convert to MP3. Part of the reason it took me so long to understand the beauty of MP3 is that before the arrival of SoundJam, the tasks of converting CD tracks (a process known as "ripping") and playing tracks were handled by separate utilities. With SoundJam, you can pop an audio CD into your CD-ROM drive and view a window listing the tracks on the CD, complete with title and artist information courtesy of the Internet-based CDDB, a huge database of information about CDs. Select some tracks, add them to the Converter window, and then click the Start Converting button. Tweaky options are available if you click the Configure button, but (not knowing what was best) I've stuck with the default settings and been happy with the results. Other programs can stand in for SoundJam here; we'll soon have an article comparing the quality of different MP3 encoders.
Conversion to MP3 using the default settings takes two to three minutes per song, depending on length, and you can keep working in both SoundJam and other applications during the conversion. SoundJam saves MP3 files to a folder named with the title of the CD, using track titles as file names. They're normal files and you can copy them from machine to machine, back them up, make aliases to them, and manage them as you would any other file.
More important, SoundJam automatically adds newly converted songs to the Master Playlist, a list of all your MP3 files. You can edit the Master Playlist, but it's merely a representation of the MP3 files on your hard disk. Deleting an item from the Master Playlist doesn't affect the original file. The Master Playlist optionally displays information about each track, including name, artist, album title, time, size, track number, year, date converted, genre, and file kind. Any column other than the first one (which is set to track name) can contain any of this information (the column headers are drop-down menus). You can add or remove columns by clicking the + or - buttons, and you can change the sorting order as you do in a Finder list view window. In practice, I've found most of these optional columns a waste of screen space, but I can see others appreciating the information. Because of SoundJam's unique way of defining the content of a column, you can't click a column header to sort by the column, as you would in the Finder. Instead, the first column's header is a drop-down menu that lets you change the sort order to any of the optional columns, whether or not it's visible. This means you can sort your Master Playlist by Genre, for instance, even if you don't want to display the Genre column. I understand the design trade-offs, but I'd prefer standard sorting techniques.
SoundJam picks up some information about each track from the file itself, but it lets you modify other items, including Track Name, Artist, Album, Year, Track Number, and Genre. You might want do this if you disagree with details from the CDDB (personally, I want Beatles songs to sort under B, not T for "The Beatles,"). Another reason to customize this information is to add your own notes, ratings, or categorizations. SoundJam doesn't provide user-definable fields, but you can co-opt the Track Number and Genre fields if you want, and future versions of SoundJam may offer additional functionality in this area.
SoundJam helps you categorize your MP3 collection in playlists. The Master Playlist is always available, but you can create additional playlists. I've started to do this for music that I listen to at different times (breakfast music is different from lunch music) and for music that fits different moods (raucous versus contemplative). You can store playlists anywhere, but if you put them in SoundJam's Playlists folder, they appear in a hierarchical Open Playlist menu in SoundJam's File menu. Playlists seemingly rely on the Mac's Alias Manager, since you can move the MP3 files anywhere and the playlists continue to work.
Eye Candy & Finger Food -- SoundJam offers two "features" that spice up the visual look of the program: skins and visual plug-ins. Visual plug-ins draw patterns in time with the music that's playing. Eclipse and Melt-O-Rama are pretty (Thumper is dull), but they're primarily interesting in full-screen mode (by pressing Command-F; pressing Escape returns to normal) on screens that can change resolution (not my PowerBook G3). SoundJam has no idea of your Energy Saver settings, so if you have your screen set to blank after a few minutes of idle time, don't bother with a visual plug-in. Perhaps a future version of SoundJam could prevent screen blanking when a visual plug-in is running.
I'm more disappointed with skins, which are alternate interfaces for SoundJam's Player window. SoundJam's default Player window is reminiscent of Apple's QuickTime Player, but more usable. The other skins, however, are almost unusable. It's difficult to distinguish controls in most, thanks to garish color schemes and poor layout. My impression is that Casady & Greene felt they had to add skins to seem sufficiently hip and to compete with other MP3 players with skin support. I applaud the flexibility - consumer electronic interfaces are usually horrible, so it's great to have the option of using different interfaces. Now if only an interface designer could create skins that provided true alternate interfaces, not just non-rectangular pictures with obscure, randomly affixed controls.
Speaking of controls, the Player window offers all the basics, but you might not want to use the mouse to click the buttons, especially if you're using a skin, where identifying buttons can be a chore. SoundJam provides keyboard control, so you can start playing the selected track by pressing Return, pause by pressing Spacebar, mute with Command-M, stop playback with the time-honored Command-period (but not the standard equivalent of Escape), switch tracks with Left and Right arrows, and increase and decrease volume with Command-Up and Down arrow.
SoundJam also features simple bass and treble controls, or you can replace them with a 10-band equalizer. I'm never sure how to set these things, so if you're like me, you can choose from preconfigured settings. Audiophiles may appreciate the equalizer; if SoundJam wanted to go all out, it could enable you to associate specific equalizer settings for a track or album.
Expanding My Horizons -- After working with MP3 files for a week or two, my eyes started to open to further possibilities. I'm not talking about listening to streaming MP3 files - my 56K frame relay connection doesn't seem to be up to the task. (SoundJam author Jeff Robbin confirmed that many streaming MP3 files require at least 128 Kbps ISDN connections.) Nor am I talking about downloading MP3 songs from the Internet - although a several megabyte file should take only five to ten minutes to download, I found the MP3 sites fairly slow. Worse, these sites feature so many artists and are so clumsy to navigate that they're overwhelming. After downloading free songs that failed to arrive intact or that I threw away before they finished playing, I refocused on MP3 files converted from our personal CD collection.
Here's where I started to realize what MP3 made possible. If I didn't like a song on a CD, I could avoid converting it. Some CD players can create programs to eliminate specific songs, but that information stays with the CD player, not the CD. Play it in the car and you have to listen the song you dislike again. As a bonus, when converting to MP3, eliminating songs saves disk space.
Disk space quickly becomes a focus as you convert CDs to MP3 format. I've converted 44 CDs containing a total of 507 songs, and they take up a total of 1.9 GB on my PowerBook's hard disk. Over the years, we've accumulated about 200 CDs, and there's no way I'll have room for them all. But with 20 GB ATA-IDE hard disks available for less than $200, I'm already contemplating how to bring more MP3 storage online. None of my current Macs other than the PowerBook use ATA-IDE hard disks or support FireWire, so I'd need a different computer. I also don't want anything other than a PowerBook in the kitchen - desktop Macs and their monitors take up too much space, are too loud, and, with the reported exception of the not-yet-released AGP Graphics Power Mac G4, don't sleep quietly.
But then the possibilities spill out again - MP3s are just files. I could put a Mac with a 20 GB hard disk (any inexpensive Power Mac that would support a huge ATA-IDE hard disk) down in the server room and share the files via Ethernet not just to the PowerBook in the kitchen, but also to any Mac on the network. When I rushed to test this, I was disappointed that the sound broke up frequently. Jeff Robbin said he's seen the same problem with Personal File Sharing, though he said it's solved both in AppleShare and in Mac OS 9's Personal File Sharing. Disappointed, I tested a few more variables - a faster Mac serving the files, no other network traffic - but the only change that helped was sharing the files via TCP/IP rather than AppleTalk (thanks to ShareWay IP from Open Door Networks, but also a feature of Mac OS 9).
My head swam with possibilities again - my PC has only a 150 MHz Pentium in it, and it's slow. Perhaps I could replace it with a faster PC next time I need it for work, and convert the existing machine into a Linux box running software to make it into an AppleShare server? I'll bet someone has already put together a tiny Linux box with a big hard disk and an Ethernet port - if it's cheap and can share files, that's all I need.
All of this is silliness, of course, but the germs of ideas sprout here. The Mac, at least when coupled with SoundJam, happens to make a good MP3 player. The interface is better than your garden variety CD player, and there's room for improvement as we get past the concept of hard-wired interfaces, tiny buttons, and barely readable LCD displays. Macs are far too expensive, of course - I'm using a several thousand dollar computer to replace a $500 CD player. The only reason that's an economy is that I already have the PowerBook, and I'd have it whether or not I also bought a CD player. It's not cheap, but it's doing precisely what computers were designed to do: whatever I ask of it.
It's been a long time since I've been astonished, and I'm enjoying the feeling again. You may not find SoundJam or even MP3s as liberating as I have, but if I can encourage you to tell Eudora to hold your email and head home early from the Microsoft Office, perhaps you'll also see new ways Macs can improve your life outside work.
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
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