Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue

TidBITS Logo

TidBITS#583/11-Jun-01

Just when you think Apple has cornered the market on cool (with the PowerBook G4 Titanium), they up the ante by releasing the tiny iBook (Dual USB). Which would you choose? In local news, the Washington State Supreme Court upholds the state's anti-spam law, which reminds us: what ever happened to TidBITS's spam suit? Also, we pass on news of an AppleScript worm, a Microsoft Word macro security fix, and a Handspring rebate, plus we welcome Sustainable Softworks as a new TidBITS sponsor.

Topics:

Copyright 2001 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:


MailBITS/11-Jun-01

Sustainable Softworks Sponsoring TidBITS -- We're pleased to announce our latest TidBITS sponsor, the network utility company Sustainable Softworks. Best known for their IPNetRouter program, which turns almost any Mac into a feature-rich network router, Sustainable Softworks also makes other useful utilities like IPNetMonitor, which helps you test and troubleshoot network connections and IPNetTuner, which enables you to tweak Open Transport's internal settings. Most recently, Sustainable Softworks released IPNetSentry, an unobtrusive personal firewall which not only watches and deters Internet crackers from your Mac, but which also can improve overall reliability by throwing out crash-causing malformed packets. But IPNetRouter remains Sustainable Softworks' flagship program, and it's one we've come to rely on. Any time you read an article or a TidBITS Talk message in our database, or even receive an issue of TidBITS via email, that data has passed through IPNetRouter at some point. It's stable, flexible, reliable, and backed by outstanding online support from its author, Peter Sichel. Also important is the fact that Peter and others at Sustainable Softworks have long been active members of the Macintosh Internet community. We couldn't be happier to welcome Sustainable Softworks to our select group of sponsoring companies. [ACE]

<http://www.sustworks.com/>

Word Macro Security Fix Available -- Microsoft has posted the Microsoft Word for Macintosh Security Update: Macro Vulnerability, a long title for a simple and important fix. In Word 98 and Word 2001, malicious code can be embedded as a macro in Rich Text Format (RTF) files, which would not be recognized by Word's internal macro-checking mechanism. The update prevents macros from opening without a security warning. The problem only affects Word 98 and Word 2001, not the other components of Microsoft Office. The update is a 361K download. [JLC]

<http://www.microsoft.com/mac/download/office2001/wordmacro.asp>

Mac.Simpsons Email Worm Targets Microsoft Software -- Last week, reports surfaced of a new Mac OS worm that arrives by email and takes advantage of Microsoft email clients Outlook Express and Entourage to send itself to everyone in the infected user's address book. According to Symantec, the AppleScript worm, dubbed "Mac.Simpsons@mm" for its promise to show hundreds of never-before-seen episodes of the popular Simpsons television series, may also remove all the user's messages from the Sent Items folder, however, they can be retrieved from the Deleted Items folder. The attachment appears as an AppleScript script named Simpsons Episodes.

<http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/venc/data/mac.simpsons@mm.html>

Microsoft's Entourage application, the combination email client and personal information manager included with Office 2001, warns the user of suspicious activity before sending copies of the worm to everyone in the address book, but Outlook Express provides no such warning. The worm also places a copy of itself in the user's Startup Items folder, and reports suggest that it attempts to access a specific Web site using Internet Explorer. If you believe your Mac might have been compromised, check your Startup Items folder for the worm or other suspicious files (if your Mac isn't currently running, be sure to start it with the Shift key held down to disable startup items). [MHA]

<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=06139>

Handspring Offers $100 Rebate For Old PDAs -- On 07-Jun-01, Palm OS-compatible handheld vendor Handspring announced a trade-up program that offers users a $100 rebate on the thin Visor Edge handheld in exchange for nearly any old PDA, whether or not it works. The company will send Visor Edge purchasers a $100 rebate check upon receipt of the rebate form, original product code from the Visor Edge's box, and a qualifying old handheld. Acceptable trade-ins include Palm OS handhelds; Pocket PC and Windows CE handhelds; Symbian, Casio, Psion, or Sharp handhelds, and even old Apple Newtons, if you still have one of those around that you don't use. (Current Handspring Visor owners can send in their serial numbers to get a $100 discount on a Visor Edge and keep their current Visor.) Handspring says it has made arrangements to recycle the old devices. The offer is open only through 01-Jul-01 to residents of the U.S. and Canada, and all mail requesting the rebate or packages containing the old handhelds must be postmarked by 31-Jul-01. [MHA]

<http://www.handspring.com/promos/tradeup.jhtml>


Spam Damned in Washington State

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

Last week, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously struck down last year's ruling from King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson that Washington State's anti-spam law was unconstitutional. Judge Robinson held the law violated the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution because compliance would require spammers to identify specific email addresses as being connected with Washington State residents. Robinson is correct - that requirement is burdensome. But what she failed to consider was the fact that identification is at issue only when the email in question uses misleading information in the subject line, has an invalid reply address, or attempts to disguise routing information. In short, legitimate commercial email, even when unsolicited, doesn't run afoul of the Washington State anti-spam law at all, and thus the concern over identification is moot.

<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=05871>

The Washington State Supreme Court also disagreed with Robinson's opinion that inconsistent state laws regulating spam also create a burden on interstate commerce. The Supreme Court found that anti-spam laws in the 17 other states that have enacted such legislation have much overlap and complement each other in some respects, but there's no actual conflict.

Justice Susan Owens expressed it best when she wrote, "the only burden the Act places on spammers is the requirement of truthfulness, a requirement that does not burden commerce at all but actually facilitates it by eliminating fraud and deception."

<http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/opindisp.cfm?docid=694168MAJ>

Will the revitalization of the Washington State anti-spam law eliminate spam? No, though it's still an important decision that ultimately will reduce the amount of spam . The problem is that a large amount of spam is sent by small-time grifters, people who live in the cracks of society by not violating any criminal laws, changing names and addresses regularly, and staying out of the way of large companies with deep pockets. Those sort of people have always existed, but in the past their small predations have been limited. Thanks to the way the Internet magnifies the effort of an individual, these people can now aim their scams at a huge and ever-increasing audience. The economics of spamming aren't good, but they don't have to be, since that sort of life tends to be a hand-to-mouth existence, so an infinitesimally small success rate is sufficient.

But having anti-spam legislation available as a tool for people and companies to use against spammers adds a level of risk to the act of spamming. It's not a big one, but since the margin of success with spam is so low anyway, the added risk doesn't have to be enormous to be effective. More importantly, by adding some risk to spamming, the legislation can help keep honest companies honest. If it were easier to send unsolicited commercial email with misleading subjects or deceptive routing information, some companies would no doubt take that approach, and hopefully this legislation will help dissuade them.

We did see a drop in the amount of spam in 1999 that might have correlated with the passage of anti-spam legislation, but particularly when the Washington State statute was declared unconstitutional, the volume started to rise again, such that despite increasingly effective filters on our mail servers, both Geoff Duncan and I received more spam per day in 2000 than in 1998 (Geoff had an average of 7.8 spam messages per day get through server-side filters in 2000; my average was 8.2 per day). You can see how we compared to other TidBITS readers in the results of a poll from a year ago.

<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=05929>

[This text currently unavailable.]

One way or another, it's clear to me that we as a society have a long way to go in learning how to live with this Internet genie we've released. But we'll have to take the bad with the good, and I remain hopeful that one day we'll be have effective social and technical mechanisms that will eliminate spam from our lives without the need for legislation.


iBook or TiBook?

by Mike Whybark <mike@whybark.com>

What would you do if you could exchange some work for either a shiny new PowerBook G4 Titanium or Apple's latest portable wonder, the iBook (Dual USB)? It's not an easy question, since both Macs induce excessive levels of drool, but it's one I'm going to try to answer in this article. Obviously, my situation is unique: a freelance job for a multimedia software company requires a Macintosh laptop computer, and another client would be happy to pay me for an assignment with the very laptop I need for the first gig. If you're trying to decide between these two machines, please follow along, and I hope my train of thought will help lead you to a decision as well.

The machine I imagined for myself was a current, speedy Mac OS portable, both tough and lightweight. I knew it needed to be fairly high-powered, since I was hoping for a three-year life cycle. Since I work on projects that require a great deal of image editing and compositing as well as audio, I knew I'd want a CD-R drive and a large internal hard disk, a complement of fast ports, lots of RAM, and a large, bright, high-resolution display. Additionally, I needed an AirPort card so I could work on my home AirPort network. At first blush, a PowerBook G4 Titanium, with its modern PowerPC G4 processor, high-end specs, and huge LCD display sounded like it might fit the bill well.

Titanium Problems -- I began my research at the Apple Web site. I was surprised to learn that the PowerBook G4 Titanium is available in only three varieties, two 400 MHz models distinguished by differing hard disk sizes, 20 GB and 30 GB, and a 500 MHz model with a 30 GB hard disk.

Somewhat disappointing was the single optical drive choice: a DVD-ROM drive, with no alternatives available for the Titanium's thin form factor. I've had a DVD-ROM drive in an older machine for years, but have never used it to read a DVD-ROM. Since I often need to burn data to a CD, the lack of ready access to a CD-R drive can seriously impede my work. I already own an external FireWire CD-R, so a built-in CD-R in the portable wasn't an absolute requirement - although a FireWire port would then be necessary. The Titanium supports FireWire, but my initial disappointment about the lack of a CD-R option led me to consider other possibilities. One option immediately presented itself.

<http://store.apple.com/1-800-MY-APPLE/WebObjects/AppleStore?family=PowerBook>
<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=06269>

Checking Out the iBook -- On 01-May-01, Apple announced the new iBook (Dual USB). It is so different from the old candy-colored iBook in appearance and features that it was almost instantly nicknamed the "iceBook" for its gleaming white plastic body. Substantially smaller and lighter than the old curvy iBook, the new iBook actually beats the svelte Titanium in the miniaturization department. It's neither as broad nor as a deep as the Titanium, at 4.9 pounds weighs 0.4 pounds less, and it's a mere 0.35 inches thicker when closed.

<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=06422>

The similarity of size and weight caught my eye - I hadn't considered the old iBook as an option due to its 6.6 pound weight and expansive dimensions. Looking more closely, I was pleased to note that the iBook also sports a FireWire port. Of course, it's AirPort-ready, but more interesting, it has four available optical drives - CD-ROM, CD-RW, DVD-ROM, and a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combination (you choose one when purchasing; unlike the PowerBook G3 series, the drive isn't in a swappable bay). And despite these features, its price starts at well over a thousand dollars less than the Titanium.

<http://store.apple.com/1-800-MY-APPLE/WebObjects/AppleStore?family=iBook>

Some more legwork on the iBook revealed its three main restrictions when compared to the Titanium: the choice of processor, the system bus speed, and the video and display systems. In each case, as one might expect, the Titanium is more powerful.

The most notable limitation, of course, is the iBook's use of the PowerPC G3 processor instead of the faster PowerPC G4, which also includes the Velocity Engine processing unit for dramatic speed increases in certain types of applications that have been explicitly compiled to support it. Mac OS X itself takes advantage of the Velocity Engine, and going forward, it's clear that the iBook will feel slower than the PowerBook G4 Titanium as both machines age. This means that the iBook may not meet my three-year life cycle requirement.

Secondly, the iBook uses a 66 MHz system bus as compared to the Titanium's 100 MHz system bus, which can impact the overall performance of the machine in situations where a lot of data needs to be moved across the system bus. However, the iBook's 256K L2 cache is on the PowerPC G3 chip itself, providing a 500 MHz data path, whereas the Titanium's 1 MB of L2 cache is on the processor module and runs at half the speed of the CPU (either 200 or 250 MHz).

<http://www.apple.com/powerbook/specs.html>
<http://www.apple.com/ibook/specs.html>

Finally, and most glaringly (pun intended), the issue of video and displays comes into consideration. The iBook's built-in display system is a 12-inch diagonal XVGA TFT active matrix LCD, running at a maximum resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels. That's not shabby by any means, though it can't compare with the Titanium's 15.2-inch wide-screen LCD running at 1,152 by 768 pixels.

The iBook also features nearly the same video subsystem as the older PowerBook G3 (FireWire), the ATI RAGE Mobility 128M with AGP 2x. However, the iBook's standard VGA-out port is limited to providing video-mirroring of the built-in display. That's fine for projection or use of a single large monitor at the iBook's highest resolution, but in contrast, the PowerBook G4 Titanium supports monitor spanning, so, when available, that giant expanse of screen can be complemented by another.

Finally, the iBook lacks a PC Card slot found in the Titanium, but given the functionality and ports built into the iBook, I can't see any particular need for PC Card expansion.

Outside Opinions -- Having realized that the iBook was a viable option for my needs if I adjusted certain expectations, I now faced the task of separating my needs from my desires, and for that, I've long had good luck seeking the advice of others.

I began with my wife. She listened to me lay the issues out, but in the end for her it was a clear-cut decision based on price; she thought that the significantly cheaper iBook was the preferred option. An enquiry to a list of computer professionals, most of whom are not Mac people, yielded the same choice but with a new perspective. The discussion there determined, based upon my use patterns and peripherals, that the machine under consideration was unlikely to be a replacement for my existing Power Mac G4 desktop system, and thus it would be more sensible to obtain a smaller, lighter, and cheaper "orbital" system.

A query to the savvy Mac users on TidBITS Talk turned up somewhat different opinions that favored the Titanium over the iBook, citing display and screen size most frequently, followed by longevity, speed, and processor concerns. Folks on TidBITS Talk also zeroed in on my desire for a CD-R in the portable as dispensable.

Ever the iconoclast, TidBITS Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg suggested a PowerBook G3 (FireWire) because of its robust suite of professional features and lowering price in the face of the new portables. His observations are cogent, but since size and weight predominated in my mind as the narrowing factors, I didn't look closely at that machine as an option. However, its dual-battery capacity and resale pricing (I saw one on eBay with Final Cut Pro for about $1,800) make it an attractive cost/value comparison to the iBook for the professional user.

<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tlkthrd=1390>

The final sources of information I pursued with regard to the iBook were Macintosh price-and-bundle tracking sites, plus discussion groups and bulletin boards. I learned some interesting things from these forums, most notably that a number of people were considering stepping down from the Titanium to the new iBook, and that despite its space age construction, the Titanium's thin but large form factor contributed to it feeling fragile. Other negatives that cropped up around the Titanium related to problems with the DVD-ROM drives, slight keyboard impressions on the screen when closed (caused by dirt and skin oils deposited on the keyboard), and poor AirPort range due to the antenna placement and titanium shielding. Although Apple will hopefully work out these design kinks, it won't happen in time for this purchase. On the timing issue, although Apple has had trouble shipping machines in quantity when promised, the new iBooks (and particularly the CD-ROM model) do seem to be shipping steadily and for some online orders, before promised.

I also read of some problems that new iBook owners were experiencing. The first problem that surfaced involved difficulties with the audio output of the iBooks, solvable only with a restart; Apple responded immediately with a software update that Apple recommends all iBook owners download and install. The second problem involved varying problems with the trackpad, such as wandering or jumping cursors. The trackpad problem reports are still coming in and no resolution or clear indication of the scope of the problem is currently available. [Having just received my new iBook from Small Dog Electronics, I can say that the cursor wandering and jumping is, at least on my machine, related to touching the large trackpad surface accidentally with multiple fingers. -Adam]

<http://asu.info.apple.com/swupdates.nsf/artnum/n12255>

Reading that brick-and-mortar merchants frequently had the iBook in stock inspired me to pay a visit to my local Computer Store in Seattle. I expected I would be more impressed by the form factor and screen size of the Titanium. However, once I was able to use both machines side-by-side, I found that the keyboard, trackpad, and button layout on the iBook was noticeably more comfortable. In particular, the Titanium has an extra half-inch or so of lip between the front edge of the machine and the trackpad button; every time I went to hit the button with my thumb, I smacked this lip instead. On the iBook, although the trackpad and button are the same size and shape as on the Titanium, I didn't have the problem with the lip. By itself, this isn't a huge issue - I'm sure I'd get used to avoiding the Titanium's lip right away. But overall, I just found the iBook more comfortable.

The iBook display was extremely crisp and bright. Even at the highest resolution of 1,024 by 768, I had no difficulty looking at it or hitting even small controls. The Titanium's larger display was just fine, but for some reason, I saw the iBook's display more clearly. Finally, the Titanium's slot-loading DVD-ROM ejects to the front of the machine, which would be a minor hassle when I use the machine in bed. The side-mounted, tray-loading configuration of the iBook wouldn't suffer this problem. Another bonus on the iBook side for lap use is my initial impression that it runs cooler than the Titanium. A lap warmer can be nice in the cold, rainy months, but I don't need to bake my thighs otherwise.

Finally, I was impressed at how small the iBook looks, while the Titanium's width gives the impression of size. The difference between them is only 2.2 inches, measured edge-to-edge the long way, but in packages this small, a few inches matters a lot.

Choosing a Book -- To sum up, I found the pricing of the iBook far more attractive than the Titanium's pricing. The low price also helped me soften my desire for a three-year life cycle. The main technical differences, such as CPU speed, display size, and monitor spanning capabilities turned out not to be crucial because I'm planning to use the portable in conjunction with my primary desktop Mac. Finally, the opportunity to handle the two machines side-by-side enabled me to determine that for whatever intangible reason, I preferred the feel of the iBook.

In the end, the iBook most closely suits my needs. Its up-to-date ports provide access to my supporting cast of peripherals here at home, so much so that I decided to get the least expensive CD-ROM model (though with more RAM and an extra battery). The iBook's Lilliputian stature means I can travel with it easily, and the price difference between it and the Titanium allows me to save some of the money I earned recently for the proverbial rainy day (which may come in the form of my late-summer electric bill here on the power-challenged West Coast). I'm looking forward to opening the box on my new iBook.

[Mike Whybark plays a bright-blue electric mandolin in the Seattle-based Bare Knuckle Boxers and has designed user interfaces, logos, and Web sites for the DVD anime classic Bubblegum Crisis and two Better Homes and Gardens CD-ROMs, among others. Most recently he led the initial development of an online sweepstakes and contest management system for iPromotions, now a division of 24/7 Media, Inc.]

<http://mike.whybark.com/>
<http://www.bareknuckleboxers.com/>


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.

Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue