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Does mousing cause you pain? Read on for Adam's review of the Contour Design RollerMouse Station, an unusual pointing device that could help. Plus, Matt Deatherage casts a cynical eye on Intuit's announcement of QuickBooks 5 for Mac OS X, and Kirk McElhearn examines two books on Mac OS X. In the news, we cover PowerMail 4.0, a security update for Mac OS X, and PopChar X 1.2, plus the MacHax Best Hack Contest CD and a digital photography cruise conference.
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PowerMail 4.0 Beefs Up Mail Handling -- Despite Apple bundling Mail with every copy of Mac OS X, email developers continue to forge ahead, with the latest major release coming from Swiss company CTM Development. PowerMail 4.0 adds partial POP3 downloads, server-side mail management, an enhanced address book that tracks addresses in sent and received mail automatically, integrated text clippings, mail scheduling, and a recent mail log window that simplifies the task of processing just-received messages. (See "Migrating to New Climes with PowerMail" in TidBITS-530 for a review of the previous version.) The $50 program is compatible with Mac OS 8.6 and later and also runs natively under Mac OS X (including the forthcoming Jaguar), where it now supports Quartz text smoothing. Upgrades cost $30 for registered users, though they're free for anyone who purchased PowerMail 3.1.2 after 15-Apr-02. A 30-day demo version is available as a 4.6 MB download. [ACE]
Security Update 2002-08-02 Closes Unix Holes -- Apple has released yet another security update for Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server, fixing vulnerabilities in OpenSSL, the Apache mod_ssl module, and the Sun RPC XDR decoder. Most Mac OS X users wouldn't have been vulnerable to these problems anyway, since they must be enabled manually in Mac OS X (though not Mac OS X Server). Even though the risk is low, it's still important to install this update, either via Software Update or manually from the download link below (4.8 MB). [ACE]
PopChar X 1.2 Opens a New Window -- Version 1.2 of ergonis software's PopChar X brilliantly eradicates the shortcomings noted in "Snap, Crackle, and PopChar X" in TidBITS-631. You can now Command-click on the small "P" to move it to another part of the menu bar; more important, PopChar X can now display and insert all of a font's hundreds or thousands of Unicode characters. The interface for character display is superbly simple, clean, and convenient: characters are shown in a single scrolling pane, but that pane is clearly divided into sections (Greek, Cyrillic, Arrows, Hiragana, and so forth) and a pop-down menu scrolls instantly to any section. PopChar X is now both an excellent way to examine your fonts and a significant Unicode input method: for those wishing to use more than the plain Latin alphabet, it's a must-have utility. PopChar X costs $30; this upgrade is free to registered users. [MAN]
MacHax Best Hack Contest CD 2002 Now Available -- Want to see some cool hacks? The 2002 MacHax Best Hack Contest CD is now available directly from the MacHax Group for $20 plus shipping and handling. Check out our contest coverage in TidBITS-636 for descriptions of some of the most interesting entries. Keep in mind that these programs are written very quickly, so they're seldom polished and will very likely crash, but they're still often extremely amusing. Plus, many come with full source code that will interest developers who were unable to attend this year's MacHack conference. [ACE]
Digital Photography Cruise -- If your appetite for cruise-based conferences was whetted by our coverage of the Mac Mania Geek Cruise, you might want to check out the upcoming Digital Photography Workshop at Sea, especially since the lead instructor is Arthur Bleich, a frequent contributor to TidBITS on digital photography topics. It takes places over eight days in early December in the Caribbean and looks like it would be a great way to hone your photography skills. [ACE]
by Matt Deatherage <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Intuit today announced that it is developing QuickBooks Pro 5.0 for Mac OS X, to be available in the first quarter of 2003. What does it do? Intuit won't say, other than that it runs natively in Mac OS X and Mac OS 9. How much will it cost? Sorry, that's a secret, too. Just like a June survey that leaked to the press, Intuit is trying to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt among Macintosh owners: if the great QuickBooks is coming soon, why should I buy MYOB today?
Intuit didn't touch QuickBooks 4 for Macintosh for five years except to provide a legally required Y2K update, abandoning the product in 1996 because controlling 60 percent of the Macintosh accounting market apparently wasn't enough to turn a profit (those figures come from the Wall Street Journal, by the way, from February 1997). MYOB took the challenge and ran with it, making new versions of its software every year, adding an entry-level FirstEdge product this year, and jumping on the Carbon bandwagon early to have a Mac OS X-native program out well over a year ago. Despite all that effort, it took until three months ago - yes, until May 2002 - for MYOB to take the market lead in Macintosh accounting software away from the five-year-old QuickBooks Pro 4.0 that Intuit has continued to sell (without any warnings on the box that the program is outdated and unsupported). Intuit won't even update the payroll tables in QuickBooks; it refers you to Aatrix for a free copy of its compatible payroll program TopPay.
Intuit apparently couldn't stand for MYOB to take the market lead away from its moribund product, so the company issued a survey asking if customers would pay $100 for a Mac OS X-native upgrade, or $279 for new purchases of the product (other people may have seen different prices). The survey didn't discuss any of the new features added to the Windows versions of QuickBooks in five years other than easier-to-configure forms and improved reporting. Take a look at Intuit's comparison chart for the various Windows versions and realize that almost none of those features are in the Macintosh product, nor did Intuit's survey talk about adding them - just charging the same $279 price.
Today's announcement is no better: no promises of parity with QuickBooks Pro for Windows, no discussion of any new features, just a promise to add features to the software in six months for the first time in five years. Intuit's Dan Levin said, "We listened to our customers and they have spoken loud and clear. They want a Mac OS X-compatible version of QuickBooks." Intuit's customers spoke even louder and clearer five years ago that they didn't want the product dropped, and Intuit ignored them. Now, with no specifics whatsoever, Intuit says it will revise the product and "expects to release a new version of QuickBooks for the Mac on approximately an annual basis."
There is no product here, just an announcement from a company with one of the greediest, most cynical, and most customer-unfriendly track records of any Macintosh software company. The sole point of this announcement is to stop you from buying MYOB AccountEdge or MYOB FirstEdge before Intuit can get some unknown version of QuickBooks out the door to milk more money out of a market it determinedly abandoned five years ago. Don't let it fool you.
[Matt Deatherage is the publisher of MacJournals.com, where he oversees MDJ and MWJ - daily and weekly subscription-based, ad-free journals for serious Macintosh users, on hiatus this week. For a free trial, visit MacJournals.com.]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
Those of you who have been reading TidBITS for years may remember that back in 1992, I had a bout with carpal tunnel syndrome. I beat it with proper ergonomics and addressing the psychological stresses in my life, but I've retained a fascination with alternative keyboards and pointing devices that promise to reduce pain from repetitive stress injuries.
So, when I saw a press release from Contour Design claiming that their RollerMouse Station reduced discomfort and pain by 47 percent in the call center of a major U.S. pharmaceutical company, I was intrigued enough to ask for a review unit. It came a few days later, and I've been using it for a couple of months now. In short, it's a good pointing device, although, like most pointing devices, it isn't for everyone.
Physical Design -- The RollerMouse Station is essentially a pointing device built into a wrist rest, all attached to a two-piece plastic tray that holds your keyboard - you can see a picture of it on Contour Design's Web site. The pointing device sits between a pair of gel-filled wrist rest pads right below the spacebar on your keyboard, and it offers a roller bar, three buttons, and a scroll wheel.
The buttons do more or less what you'd expect - the left one performs a standard single click, the middle button does a double click, and the right one selects contextual menus (essentially a Control-click). The scroll wheel scrolls the window underneath the cursor (at least in Mac OS X), and pressing the scroll wheel activates a button that performs a standard single click.
The interesting part of the pointing device is the roller bar. It's covered with rubber for guaranteed grip, and it rolls extremely easily. Rolling the bar up and down moves the cursor appropriately, and the entire roller bar slides left and right to provide that range of motion. You can even press down for yet another standard single click, and a dial on the underside of the RollerMouse lets you adjust the force necessary to activate the roller bar's button.
All the functions I've described so far are built into the firmware of the device. It's truly plug-and-play, with no software to install or configure. And that's fine, as long as you're happy with these defaults.
Software? What Software? Unfortunately, my experience with the RollerMouse began unpleasantly, for several reasons. The most serious concern I had immediately after plugging it in was that the roller bar hit its left and right edge well before the cursor made it to the corresponding side of the screen. That's because I always use a pair of monitors, and the RollerMouse is clearly designed for a single-monitor system. (Those lucky sods with 22-inch and 23-inch Apple Cinema Displays would have exactly the same problem - it's related to the pixel dimensions of your Desktop, not the number of monitors).
My second problem was that although I've never used all the buttons available on my Kensington TurboMouse Pro, I do like to assign a button to go back in Web browsers, and I occasionally define other buttons for specific tasks. But Contour Design simply doesn't offer any software for adjusting cursor speed or redefining button actions. Plus, Mac OS 9 doesn't support scroll wheels. However, there turned out to be a solution - USB Overdrive - as Contour Design's tech support suggested quickly when I raised these concerns.
USB Overdrive, a universal driver for USB pointing devices and game controllers, comes from Alessandro Levi Montalcini, a long-standing Macintosh shareware developer. Alessandro's code even underlies many of the drivers distributed by manufacturers of mice, trackballs, and other pointing devices. With USB Overdrive, you can adjust cursor speed and acceleration and assign a wide variety of functions to different buttons, even limiting those custom button assignments to specific applications. I've never needed it before, since Kensington's MouseWorks has provided similar features for the TurboMouse Pro trackball I use, but it was clearly time to give USB Overdrive a try.
Alessandro is still working on USB Overdrive X, which will offer Mac OS X compatibility, but I didn't see any alternative to relying on the current beta. It's still a bit convoluted to install, but seems to work well. I bumped cursor speed to the 160 dpi setting (the default seemed to be about 400 dpi), and instantly I was able to make the cursor cover my entire Desktop. A couple of quick tweaks later and I had my buttons configured as well, though not quite how I wanted them. USB Overdrive X could identify and control the RollerMouse's left and right buttons separately, and it lets you pick which button to attach to the scroll wheel's button, but the RollerMouse's middle button was hard-coded to perform a double click with the left button, and the roller bar's button was also locked into being a left button single click. USB Overdrive X couldn't touch those two buttons without also modifying the behavior of the left button itself. I ended up using the scroll wheel's button for the Back command in Web browsers, which was problematic only because the tension on the scroll wheel's button is very high, making it quite difficult to click.
Actual Usage -- With those problems out of the way, I unplugged my TurboMouse Pro and forced myself to use the RollerMouse. At first, I tried using my thumb on the roller bar to control the cursor, which seemed to make sense, since the roller bar is right below the keyboard's spacebar, and if I could use my thumb, I'd barely have to shift my hands off the keyboard at all. Unfortunately, that required either that I click with my left hand, something I had trouble learning (although I'm considering trying it again, since it seems like a good way to divide effort between my hands), or that I click using the roller bar's button (which is a left button single click). A nice idea, but pressing down on a roller bar that rolls and slides with almost no pressure at all made the cursor jump just as I wanted to click. I almost managed to learn single clicks, but double clicks and clicking and dragging were beyond my manual dexterity, even after a week of use.
After that approach failed, I went back to the technique I'd used with the TurboMouse Pro - running the roller bar with the index finger of my right hand, and clicking the left button with my thumb. It requires a little more movement of my right hand from the typing position, but it's still easy, and I was totally comfortable with the RollerMouse after only a day or two of this technique. I use the right button for contextual menus a fair amount, and for the first time, I've actually started to use and like the scroll wheel (the scroll wheel location on the TurboMouse Pro - above the trackball - put it out of reach for me). The scroll wheel isn't as smooth as the one on a Microsoft mouse I have around as well, but it's much less stiff than the TurboMouse Pro's scroll wheel. I can tell I've become addicted to the scroll wheel because it doesn't work in Classic applications, and I'm constantly trying to use it to scroll in Nisus Writer, the main Classic application I still use regularly.
So has the RollerMouse reduced my discomfort and pain by 47 percent? No, although I wasn't in much discomfort to start with, so it's not surprising. I have noticed a change in the soreness I get in my right arm - it used to be related to reaching further to the right to get to the trackball, whereas now it seems to be related to keeping my right arm pointing more to the left when I'm using the roller bar and left button. It's just enough different from the typing position that I notice it by the end of the day.
I haven't tried using my left hand to control the roller bar, although from what I can tell, left-handers will find it easy to do so. USB Overdrive would be particularly helpful then, since it would let you swap the functions of the left and right buttons if desired.
Trackpad Comparisons -- Upon reflection, my finger technique with the RollerMouse is identical to the one I use with the trackpad on my iBook. It's not entirely surprising, since the RollerMouse extends out from the front of your keyboard much the way the trackpad and wrist rests extend out from the front of the keyboards on PowerBooks and iBooks. There's even a laptop predecessor to the RollerMouse: the Outbound Laptop and Outbound Notebook, early portable Macintosh clones, both used the Isopoint Trackbar, which was essentially the same idea as the RollerMouse's roller bar.
So if there's room for a trackpad between the RollerMouse's wrist rests, would a trackpad work better than the roller bar? It would eliminate the problem of hitting the physical limits of the roller bar when moving left and right, since you can always pick up your finger and move it back to the middle of a trackpad when you hit the edge. But in the RollerMouse's favor, the roller bar is really smooth and easy to use, even when your hands are a little sweaty (a common summer occurrence for me).
For some reason, the trackpad has never taken off outside the laptop world - ALPS sold the GlidePoint, a stand-alone trackpad a while back, and Adesso makes a split keyboard with an integrated trackpad that's still seemingly available. Contour Design might do well to investigate manufacturing a trackpad-based version of the RollerMouse Station - the reduction in moving parts could help lower the cost as well as making the product instantly familiar to a large audience accustomed to trackpads on laptops.
Rolling the Dice -- Should you buy a RollerMouse right away? It's not cheap at $190 (available direct from Contour Design or from TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics), and although it worked extremely well for the work I do (email, word processing, Web browsing, and so on), I worry that it wouldn't do as well in situations where you need highly accurate control, such as with some types of graphics work or certain games. Not surprisingly, that's often true of trackpads as well.
That said, if you're experiencing discomfort or pain related to mousing, the RollerMouse is definitely worth a try, since it changes both your arm position and the type of motion necessary to move the cursor. Make sure to ask about return policies if you find it doesn't match your preferred working style - input devices are highly personal and what works for me may or may not be as comfortable for you.
by Kirk McElhearn <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When I started using Mac OS X, back in the days of the public beta, I was both confused and disappointed. The habits and familiarity I had developed over more than a decade working with Macs had been tossed by the wayside. Mac OS X offered a totally new user experience, and one that threw me for a loop. I didn't do much more than fiddle with that beta version; while I am an early adopter, I didn't want to adopt something that was so sketchy.
Then came the first official release. It was better, but many things were still missing. I began using it more, especially to update a manual I wrote for a popular utility. But my usage of Mac OS X remained, at the time, very limited. I ran Mac OS X on my iBook, but I kept my main computer running Mac OS 9 so I could get "real" work done. When the 10.1 release came out, life began to improve. Not only had Apple refined Mac OS X's interface, but I started to use it more and became more comfortable with the changes - if only because my work, writing manuals and books, required me to do so. The turning point came when I started co-writing my first book, Microsoft Office v. X Inside Out, and I looked more closely at just what was behind Mac OS X's attractive interface.
Quite a few books on Mac OS X have hit the stores, some written during the public beta, others before the 10.1 update came out. But the many improvements that appeared in 10.1 made these early books obsolete almost instantly. That left us with another flurry of books that followed the 10.1 update (which will certainly be somewhat out of date soon, when 10.2 comes out, but that's the way this business works). From this last set, I've examined more than a dozen Mac OS X books, and have chosen two that, to me, seem to offer the most useful information for intermediate or advanced users. Beginning users have a variety of other books that will help them get started (and I hope to look at a few in upcoming articles), but if you, like me, have been working with Mac OS X since the beginning, these two books will probably be the most valuable for your library.
One of the most interesting (and frightening) things about Mac OS X for us long-time Mac users is its Unix foundation. Chris Pepper covered much of this in several TidBITS articles already, but suffice it to say that we Mac users now have at our fingertips some intensely powerful - if not user-friendly - tools. Although many Mac users don't want to fiddle with command-line programs (and I am one of them), I've discovered that they can be real lifesavers at times. There's nothing wrong with long-time Mac users refusing to use command-line tools - Apple certainly doesn't require it - but there's equally little wrong with dropping into the Terminal every so often to do something that's much easier from the command-line.
Everything about OS X -- Several years ago, David Pogue and O'Reilly & Associates created the Missing Manual series, a now-successful imprint. His Missing Manual series has raised the bar in computer books - these books are generally well-written, complete, and full of tips and tricks. One of the most successful books in the series was his Mac OS 9: The Missing Manual, which gave many users the detailed information they needed to go beyond the basics. I reviewed it for TidBITS two years ago, and it remains one of my favorite books for those needing to learn more about Mac OS 9.
Now Pogue is back with the followup: Mac OS X: The Missing Manual. Like the Mac OS 9 book, the Mac OS X Missing Manual follows a logical sequence. If you read it sequentially, it starts with the Desktop (folders and windows, organization, the Dock, and the toolbar), then moves on to examine applications. The sections that follow deal with a more heterogeneous group of subjects: the Components of Mac OS X section covers preferences, the programs that come bundled with Mac OS X, and CDs and DVDs; and the Technologies of Mac OS X section deals with users, networking, graphics, sound, and the Terminal. The final section explains using Mac OS X to go online, and several appendices offer menu by menu explanations, talk about installing and troubleshooting, and provide some Web sites and additional books to consult for more information.
To Pogue's credit, he fills the book with useful information, from the basics of setting up user accounts and using windows, to how to set up a network. Everything is here - a brief section entitled The Very Basics even explains clicking and double-clicking. But, like Pogue's Mac OS 9 volume, this is not a book for beginners, who would soon be lost in the sheer quantity of information.
I learned many things I hadn't previously known - keyboard shortcuts for quick navigation in the different Finder views; how to create and manage user accounts; and some neat hacks, such as redefining keystrokes, something that used to be a breeze with ResEdit, and which now must be done from the command line.
One especially useful section is the first appendix, The "Where'd It Go" Dictionary, which lists the many things that Apple replaced from Mac OS 9 when creating Mac OS X. It's a boon for new users looking for familiar landmarks. I do have to disagree with one snide remark Pogue makes, however: under the heading Button View, he says it's "gone - to the great disappointment of the six people who ever used it." Not only do I miss button view - it's a great way to roll your own launcher using pop-up folders - but I personally know more than six people who use it.
When I was reviewing Mac OS 9: The Missing Manual, I commented, "The problem here is that the book is written more like an encyclopedia or other reference book." You can level the same criticism at this book - it's an encyclopedia, and many of its chapters read like a series of tips, keyboard shortcuts, and workarounds. This is both positive and negative - while the breadth of Mac OS X calls for a thorough approach, the almost list-like nature of the book can be overwhelming.
Mac OS X: The Missing Manual has 450 pages and lists for $25; it's currently available for 30 percent off from Amazon, and it's extremely likely that your favorite bookstore will have it as well.
For Power Users Only -- Mac OS X Unleashed, by John Ray and William C. Ray, is one of the biggest books on Mac OS X, and the one that currently gives the best coverage of its Unix underpinnings. With nearly 1,500 pages, this huge tome covers an incredible amount of information, but is relatively weak on the basics. It's not a book for beginners, nor for those who don't want to learn about the command line, given that the heart of the book, about 300 pages, is devoted to using the command line. Plus, a good part of the book deals with using Mac OS X as a server, which isn't essential for many users.
The extensive coverage of Unix begins with the most basic commands to run from the command line: cd, ls, rm, and others. For users with no Unix experience, this section reads like a tutorial. It gives concrete examples you can type into Terminal to see what happens. Follow along with the authors, and you will quickly understand the main Unix commands that you may need to use. I learned more than I thought I wanted to know as I worked my way through these chapters. (And the best way to learn these commands is to use them; following the authors' examples is helpful.) I am now confident when I open the terminal, though I try not to do it often.
Mac OS X Unleashed remains a high-level book, written more for administrators than average users. Sections on FTP serving, mail servers, and Web serving are well beyond what most of us need, but if that's the sort of information about Mac OS X you've been hungering for, this book won't disappoint.
It also features strong chapters on connecting to Windows - much easier under Mac OS X than Mac OS 9 - and other subjects such as Perl scripting, printer and font management, and system maintenance. Unfortunately, covering all these topics in depth can have negative consequences - it is a huge, dense book that may throw off a lot of intermediate users by its size. But if you want to learn more about what lies under Mac OS X's pretty interface, this book is for you. All that paper also doesn't come cheap, with a list price of $50, though the 30 percent discount currently in place at Amazon drops the price to a more reasonable $35.
Which to Choose? Although neither of these books is appropriate for the beginner, they approach the more advanced aspects of Mac OS X in different ways. Mac OS X Unleashed focuses much more on Mac OS X's Unix underpinnings - power users who want the keys to the kingdom should buy this book. In contrast, Mac OS X: The Missing Manual is exactly what it says - a reference manual. It deals with the basics, all the basics, and then everything else. It suffers, at times, from being a compendium, though its index is sufficient to find most everything you need.
The two books actually complement each other well. One provides a window on the visible side of the operating system and the other looks behind the scenes; many intermediate to advanced users of Mac OS X will need a little from each. If you don't even want to run Terminal - and I'm sure many of you don't - the Missing Manual is probably all you need.
In the few months I have had these books, both have gotten a fair amount of use, and, next to all the other Mac OS X books on my shelf, they have turned out to be the ones I look to first when I need to know something.
[Kirk McElhearn is a freelance translator and technical writer living in a village in the French Alps.]
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