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This issue marks ten, count 'em, ten years of TidBITS! Adam commemorates the occasion of our tenth anniversary by passing on some of the lessons we've learned over the years. Geoff Duncan weighs in with a Tools We Use column on iDo Script Scheduler, and we cover the releases of Now Up-to-Date & Contact 3.9 (with Palm synchronization) and PowerMail 3.0. For this week's poll, tell us how long you've been reading TidBITS.
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Now Up-to-Date & Contact 3.9 Adds Palm Sync -- Power On Software has released Now Up-to-Date & Contact 3.9, a free update to the popular calendar and contact manager bundle that adds the long-awaited capability to synchronize information with Palm handheld organizers. According to the company, users of Now Up-to-Date & Contact 3.8.3 who don't require the Palm synchronization do not need to update to the new version. Now Up-to-Date & Contact 3.9 is free to registered users and is a 6.6 MB download.
PowerMail 3.0 Released -- CTM Development has released version 3.0 of their PowerMail email client, a major rewrite that builds on the program's strengths with multi-lingual email and support for Sherlock searching. Improvements in PowerMail 3.0 include multi-threaded sending and receiving of email, improved importing capabilities, a redesigned address book that supports multiple addresses per recipient, colored labels for folders and messages, multiple signatures with random signature capabilities, SMTP batch sending by domain, and more. CTM Development focused specifically on making PowerMail 3.0 attractive to Claris Emailer users; if you've resisted moving away from Emailer so far, PowerMail is well worth a look. PowerMail 3.0 requires a PowerPC-based Mac with Mac OS 8.5 or later. A 30-day demo is available as a 2.1 MB download. PowerMail 3.0 costs $49 new; users of previous versions purchased in 1998 or 1999 can upgrade for $29, and those who purchased PowerMail in 2000 can upgrade for free. [ACE]
ACI US Changes Name to 4D -- ACI US, the publishers and distributors of the 4th Dimension database environment and product line, have changed the company name to 4D, Inc. The renaming is intended to let the company better leverage recognition of their flagship product and make it easier for people to find information on the Internet - although you'd think folks sufficiently technical to do database development would realize a company name and a product name don't have to be the same. 4D, Inc., remains a wholly owned subsidiary of its French parent company, 4D SA, and also owns StarNine Technologies, which it acquired one month ago. [GD]
Poll Preview: TidBITS is Ten! This week marks TidBITS's tenth anniversary of publication, so we're curious: in what year did you start reading TidBITS? Are you one of the several hundred people who signed up last week (if so, welcome aboard!) or have you been tuning in since TidBITS was distributed as HyperCard stacks back in 1990 and 1991? Vote now on our home page, after which you'll see how long everyone else has been reading. Below the poll results, you'll also see links to some of the articles we've published over the years detailing TidBITS's history, goals, and behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Who knows, maybe someday we'll release a blooper reel! [GD]
Poll Results: A People Divided -- In our poll last week we asked people to describe how they divide their time between Macs and PCs - if they divide their time at all. Of over 1,800 respondents, fully 50 percent indicated they mainly use Macs, but also use PCs, while a little over a third (36 percent) indicate they only use Macs. Of the remaining respondents, 13 percent indicated they use mainly PCs but also use Macs, and 2 percent indicate they only use PCs. We heard from a few of the PC-only readers, some of whom subscribe to TidBITS to keep an eye on Macintosh-related news for co-workers or colleagues or because they're former Mac users who hope to rejoin the fold. Nonetheless, it's revealing that almost two thirds of the poll's respondents indicate they use PCs to some degree, while only a little over one third use Macs exclusively. It's a cross-platform world, after all. [GD]
by Geoff Duncan <email@example.com>
I admit it: I'm an AppleScript junkie. I've been wary of macro programs and similar automation products since I got my first Macintosh. The more I learned about Mac programming, the more I realized how many low-level patches macro programs had to use, and the more they scared me. Often, I had no choice but to use those products, and inevitably I'd pay a price: either my system became unacceptably unstable, or the programs would be incompatible with other necessary software or new versions of the system. So I'd abandon my work and start over with a different product... and eventually I abandoned macro programs altogether.
AppleScript seemed to be an answer - a scripting language built around exchanging events and data via facilities built directly into the operating system. Although scriptable applications were rare when AppleScript was introduced in 1993 - and the technology was almost ignored by Apple for several years - today most major applications and utilities are scriptable (at least to some extent), and good scriptability is seen as a worthwhile and necessary feature of many products.
One of AppleScript's shortcomings, however, is the absence of a built-in scheduler. You can't tell your Mac to run a script in the wee hours of every morning, every ten minutes, or on the second Tuesday of every month without using a third-party add-on. Chris Johnson's Unix-derived (and thus cryptic) Cron fills the need for some people, and Mark Alldritt's Scheduler control panel has been available for some time. I used Scheduler for years, and though it was quite stable, it made managing more than a few scheduled events arduous. Also, Scheduler just opens applications or documents - which can include stand-alone script applications - but can't run scripts directly, which made for some awkward moments when an event triggered while I was using my Mac. Further, if I wanted to run a scheduled script manually, I had to use yet another utility, or hunt the thing down in the Finder and launch it myself. Nonetheless, Scheduler offers unique capabilities, such as the capability to open items when waking from sleep, or when a PowerBook's power adapter is plugged in or removed.
Say iDo -- I may have found my scheduling solution in Sophisticated Circuits' iDo Script Scheduler, which I first mentioned back in TidBITS-481. A Lite version is available on recent Mac OS CD-ROMs, and also as a free download from Apple's AppleScript site as well as Sophisticated Circuit's Web site.
Basically, iDo Script Scheduler is an extension and control panel combination evolved from the software Sophisticated Circuits developed for their PowerKey line of intelligent power strips. The PowerKey Pro software has a scheduling interface for opening documents, mounting disks, running scripts, plus starting up and shutting down machines. iDo Script Scheduler divorces the scheduling interface from the PowerKey hardware and focuses on providing the Mac OS's missing script-scheduling capability. iDo Script Scheduler runs only scripts or runs script applications - it can't open applications or documents on its own, but (of course) it can run a script which in turn opens applications or documents.
There are two versions of iDo Script Scheduler. The free Lite version enables you to schedule up to three events - enough to get a taste, and maybe even sufficient for some users or for dedicated Macs. iDo Script Scheduler Lite offers a solid scheduling interface enabling users to set up:
one-shot scripts which trigger at a specific date and time;
repeating scripts which run after a specified time interval has passed (expressed in minutes, hours, days, or weeks);
scripts which run at a particular time on specific days of the week (such as every weekday, every Sunday, or every Tuesday and Thursday);
scripts which run once a month - you can specify a particular day (4th day of each month), a particular weekday (3rd Friday of every month), or on the same day from the end of the month (for instance, entering "-1" as the day of the month will trigger the script on April 30th this month, but May 31st next month).
You can upgrade the Lite version to iDo Script Scheduler Enhanced for $25. In addition to supporting an unlimited number of scheduled events, the Enhanced version also enables:
hot key triggers which run a script when you press a specific key combination;
idle-time triggers which run a script after the system has been idle for a specific period of time.
I was skeptical these last two triggers would be useful for me. I run many applications, so it's tough to find hot-key combinations which don't conflict with existing shortcuts, and I usually don't want anything mucking with my machine if I'm not using it - not even a script I wrote myself. But I've gradually warmed up to them and found some useful tricks - for instance, a script which emulates the Application menu's Hide Others command, but won't hide a handful of other applications I don't want hidden if they're running in the background, like Stickies or a monitoring program. I only have one idle script - it warns me when my email partition is short on free space - and so far haven't had any problems.
And iWant... iDo Script Scheduler has room for enhancements. I'd like to be able to sort events listed in the control panel by name, next trigger, and type - right now scheduled events are listed chronologically with hot keys and idle scripts at the bottom. The mostly elegant scheduling interface has a few oddities - for instance, it will happily let you schedule a script for the eighth Friday of each month. Globally accessible hot keys are fine, but I'd also like to create hot keys which are specific to particular applications, or available to all except particular applications. The iDo Script Scheduler extension (really a background application) is itself scriptable, but I'd like to be able to create new events on the fly via a script, rather than merely be able to trigger, enable, or disable existing events. I hope some of these issues are addressed in future releases.
In the meantime, iDo Script Scheduler may already be very useful to you - it is to me. The Lite version is free (and may already be on your Mac OS CD-ROM), the Enhanced version is $25. iDo Script Scheduler works with Mac OS 8.0 or higher, but takes advantage of Mac OS 9's Multiple Users feature (so different users can have different schedules), and uses the Mac OS's built-in HTML-based help introduced in Mac OS 8.5. If you already use AppleScript, iDo Script Scheduler is well worth a look.
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
With this issue of TidBITS, we're marking our 10th anniversary of continuous Internet publication. We've watched as Apple's fortunes have waxed and waned and waxed again, as software products have come and gone, and as Macs have become faster, smaller, and more colorful. We like to think we played a small role in the ever-increasing popularity of the Internet and the rise of the Web while continuing to promote tried-and-true methods of email distribution. We've shepherded TidBITS through transitions from a simple HyperCard stack to a universally readable structure-enhanced text format to a multi-faceted publishing model that tightly integrates our original content with information polled from readers and moderated discussions among our most interested subscribers.
We've kept TidBITS free the entire time, initially through sheer perseverance, then through careful implementation of one of the very first sponsorship programs to appear on the then-non-commercial Internet. We're able to keep producing TidBITS through the continued support of our corporate sponsors, and most recently with the assistance of the nearly 500 readers who support TidBITS directly through our reader-instigated voluntary contribution program. Our approach to reporting the news, issues, and products that interest us (and hopefully you) has evolved over the years, but we've retained our basic philosophy of attempting to provide solid, accurate information that's relevant to most Macintosh users.
To give you an idea of the scope of what we've done, as of this writing we've published 527 issues containing over 4,500 articles written by more than 250 authors. These include 209 reviews, 212 news articles, 198 how-to and informational articles, 138 analyses and commentaries, and 140 technology overviews. Plus, in its two years of existence, TidBITS Talk has carried almost 6,700 messages in over 1,000 threads. Each issue of TidBITS is translated into five languages by teams of volunteers translators - you can now read TidBITS in Dutch, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.
All this is by way of saying that we think we've accumulated some small amount of experience during the last ten years. Although we can by no means claim any unique wisdom, we have learned a bit about the world in publishing TidBITS and working with the Macintosh community. This week we'd like to share ten of those lessons with you. We try to conduct our personal and professional lives by these rules; perhaps you'll find them interesting, useful, or even applicable to your own life.
Maintain Lines of Communication -- As a general rule, we try to reply to every piece of email we receive, and although that's become less possible over the years as the volume of mail has increased, it remains a major goal to reply in a prompt fashion. Similarly, though we attempt to avoid spending too much time on inefficient telephone conversations, we always answer our own phones and return messages. We feel that these approaches to remaining accessible are important for both staying in touch with the community and remaining part of the community.
Live by Your Word -- This lesson boils down to "do what you say you'll do." We've stuck with our regular weekly publication schedule for ten years (excepting announced breaks), and it continues to amaze us that reliability in meeting deadlines is apparently considered an unusual trait. When attempting to assess reliability, we've asked people how many papers they turned in late or failed to do in college, since the answer often reveals basic information about how motivated the person is to complete projects on time. That said, as much as we believe a verbal agreement is binding, we've also become fans of brief written contracts that outline an agreement since they tend to eliminate confusion later on. In a few cases, we've been paid by sponsors only because of our insertion order contracts, and we've been quite saddened by the few sponsors who have failed to pay even then.
Make Friends, Not Enemies -- Though it's impossible to get along with absolutely everyone, we feel strongly that it's worth giving an extra effort to make friends with people. That's one reason we try to respond to all of our email, and time and again that effort has paid off. In the early days, distribution of TidBITS was significantly aided by people who had nothing to gain by helping, and today, our translations exist purely from the goodwill of the volunteers who do the work each week. Simply put, if you help people, they're much more likely to help you later on, potentially in significant ways. It turns out some of those fairy tales we read as kids were right.
The corollary to this lesson is that although we would quibble with the first part of the cliche "It's not what you know, it's who you know," we can't argue with the second part. Personal networking is what drives much of the computer industry, and the more people you know, the more valuable you are in almost any position.
Care about Your Community -- Personal relationships are incredibly important, but you must also keep the community in mind. People are social animals by nature, and we both form and find ourselves included in communities all the time. We've found tremendous good in giving back to the Macintosh community. After all, the community is where we live (physically or virtually), and ignoring your community is always self-defeating. One of the best examples of this kind of work is FreePPP, which was created by a group of programmers who provide the results of their labors for free, but who ask companies using it for commercial ends to pay a licensing fee of a $1,000 charitable donation. I've coordinated licensing of FreePPP for the last few years, and in that time it has raised about $20,000 for various charities.
Learn When to Stop Working -- Any idiot can work all the time, and most do. We may spend much of our lives in our little virtual worlds, but there is a real world out there as well, and it's populated with real friends and real family. We learned long ago that no matter how strongly we felt about our work, we had to force ourselves to get away from the computers and experience the rest of what life has to offer. Take a walk in the woods, enjoy a fine meal, lounge in bed occasionally - the details don't matter, but isolating yourself from the real world only narrows your field of view.
Do Everything for the Right Reasons -- Although TidBITS does have to continue to be a viable business, it will never make any of us rich. We publish TidBITS because we want to help people and because we want to try to shed a little light on how we understand things to work. Note that our "right" reasons don't always necessarily correspond to everyone else's. For instance, I wrote last week's article on buying a PC to help Macintosh users who found themselves in that situation. A few people were compelled by their passion for the Macintosh to accuse us of being "subversive to the Macintosh cause." We can respond only that our record speaks for itself - we feel our readers are sufficiently intelligent to take the article in the helpful spirit in which it was clearly intended.
Work with the Best -- Not everyone has the luxury of choosing their colleagues, but it's worth trying, since the people around you are in many ways the most important aspect of any situation. We saw this first in college, where a good professor could make any topic, no matter how obscure or daunting (Greek Composition?), into an amazing learning experience, and a bad professor could ruin the most interesting class. The rule applies to business as well - we intentionally keep TidBITS small for a variety of reasons, but primarily because we're not interested in becoming managers who run a business instead of doing the real work that interests us. The most important part of keeping a small organization successful is to work with only the best people, and I can say without hesitation that the folks who help with TidBITS - Tonya Engst, Geoff Duncan, Jeff Carlson, Matt Neuburg, and Mark Anbinder - are of that quality.
Everything Is More Difficult than It Appears -- As we've become more deeply immersed in the industry, we've learned numerous stories behind the creation of products or technologies. In many cases, even when something isn't rocket science, it's not easy, even for the largest companies with the largest budgets. Even the basics of a product launch involve a vast number of details, and the execution is often performed under rushed and difficult circumstances. In short, it's easy to criticize when a company screws up, but try to keep in mind that there's more to the story than meets the eye. Obviously, we're not attempting to excuse mistakes, but merely to note that problems happen, and observers of the real world should understand that they're inevitable.
Assume Innocence, Admit Mistakes -- Learning the real stories behind the screw-ups has also driven home the lesson that lousy situations are for the most part just the result of a variety of mistakes and bad planning, and aren't part of some larger conspiracy or aimed at you personally. It's easy to moan about how some company is just out to screw users, but when one takes the time to understand the entire situation, screwing users is almost never on the agenda. Of course, the fact that many companies are accused of conspiracy is directly related to their refusal to admit their mistakes in a public fashion. In the worst cases, this refusal translates into a denial that the mistakes actually occurred. The spin doctors may disagree, but we feel that no one believes anyone else is perfect, and to admit mistakes makes people and companies seem more human. We're always more sympathetic to a company that screws up a product release but quickly owns up and fixes the problem, than we are to a company that denies any problems exist.
Strive for Accuracy and Value -- Sturgeon's Law states that 90 percent of science fiction is crud, but that's because 90 percent of everything is crud. Theodore Sturgeon may have been right, it's all the more reason we should try to create works that fall into the remaining ten percent. When we think about writing something for TidBITS, the questions that we always ask ourselves are:
Those questions are generally easy to answer for articles, but with basic news items, our added value often comes in selection of the most relevant news and creation of an overall archive of information for posterity. That's one reason we focus on important products and events that related to previous coverage in TidBITS, as well as why we seldom cover pre-release software.
Looking Forward -- What will the future bring? I honestly can't say. We certainly have no plans to cease publication at any time, but nothing lasts forever. In an industry where the average job seems to last about 18 months, we've resisted the urges to move on so far, and as long as we continue to find the industry sufficiently interesting and can keep TidBITS viable as a business, I see no reason we'll change things.
The most significant challenge we, and in fact many in the Macintosh community, face is maintaining enthusiasm for computing in general. It's too easy to become hyper-critical out-of-touch old coots, in the words of Jeffrey McPheeters in TidBITS Talk. We live in exciting times, and although hype and promises constantly threaten to dull our appreciation of the industry, we must always keep an enthusiastic eye out for the product or the technology that's going to change the way we think about computers and our lives.
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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