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TidBITS#652/21-Oct-02

Macworld Expo is returning to Boston - but is Apple? We look at the brouhaha so far to see what all the keyboard rattling could mean for future Mac trade shows. Also in this issue, Mark Anbinder examines Palm's new Zire handheld, Adam analyzes the steps required to solve any troubleshooting problem, and we note the release of important Microsoft Office updates, Apple's X for Teachers deal to get Jaguar for free, and Apple's fourth quarter $45 million loss.

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Copyright 2002 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


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MailBITS/21-Oct-02

Security Patches for Office 98, Office 2001, and Office X -- Microsoft has issued security updates for Macintosh versions of Office 98 (1.5 MB), Office 2001 (2 MB), and Office X (2.8 MB). The updates correct two security issues, one where a holder of a valid security certificate could generate bogus subordinate certificates which Office would believe to be valid (Microsoft security bulletin MS02-050), and another where field codes in Microsoft Word could be used to gather information surreptitiously from users' documents in some circumstances (Microsoft security bulletin MS02-059). The security certificate problem is the same one for which Microsoft released new versions of Internet Explorer last month.

<http://www.microsoft.com/mac/download/security.asp>
<http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/?url=/technet/security/bulletin/MS02-050.asp>
<http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/?url=/technet/security/bulletin/MS02-059.asp>
<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=06947>

Significantly, the security update for Office X also includes unspecified improvements which may improve application stability under Jaguar, welcome news for frustrated users of Word X who have experienced inordinate program crashes since upgrading to Jaguar. [GD]

Apple Posts $45 Million Q4 Loss -- Apple Computer last week announced a net loss of $45 million for its fourth fiscal quarter of 2002, although Apple's net numbers for the entire fiscal year were positive, with $65 million in earnings on $5.74 billion in revenue. The fourth quarter results included several non-recurring items (including write-downs of investments); without these items, Apple would have had a net profit of $7 million for the quarter. Revenues for the quarter were $1.44 billion, and gross margins were down to 26.4 percent from 30.1 percent in the same fiscal quarter of 2001. Curiously, international sales accounted for only 35 percent of Apple's revenue: usually, international sales contribute just under half of Apple's revenue.

<http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2002/oct/16earnings.html>

Apple said it does not expect the computer industry as a whole to improve soon, so the company does not anticipate a dramatic uptick in profits. However, Apple hopes to do well during the holiday season with consumer-oriented items like iPods, iMacs, and iBooks, and the company claims Mac OS X 10.2 is on track to have 5 million users by the end of the calendar year. Apple retail stores had 2.25 million visitors during the last quarter, and Apple as a whole remains in good financial shape with more than $4.3 billion in cash on hand, no revenue slippage, and normal levels of channel inventory. [GD]

Jaguar Free to Qualified U.S. Teachers -- Apple has unveiled "X for Teachers," a new program offering free not-for-resale copies of Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar for eligible K-12 teachers in the U.S. (and, after 24-Oct-02, in Canada) for their personal, educational, and/or research use. The package will feature a "Getting Started with Mac OS X" self-paced training CD-ROM that presumably introduces Mac OS X's key features; also included are Apple's digital hub applications iMovie, iTunes, and iPhoto.

<http://www.apple.com/education/macosxforteachers/>
<http://www.apple.com/ca/education/macosxforteachers/>
<http://www.apple.com/macosx/>

To qualify, teachers must be currently employed as a K-12 teacher in a public, private, or charter school. Non-teacher school employees, student teachers, higher education faculty, home schools, resellers, and others are not eligible, and there's a limit of one copy of Jaguar per qualifying teacher. Orders must be placed via the X for Teachers Web pages, and orders will be shipped to the teachers' school addresses. The X for Teachers program runs through 31-Dec-02. [GD]


Apple, IDG World Expo Play Hardball Over Macworld Expo

by Jeff Carlson <jeffc@tidbits.com>

Would Macworld Expo be the same without Apple? That's the question Mac users and vendors are asking themselves as Apple and conference organizer IDG World Expo publicly trade barbs about Apple's participation in upcoming trade shows.

The brouhaha erupted late last week, when IDG World Expo announced that the 2004 East Coast expo would move from New York City, where the event has been held since 1998, to the show's original East Coast venue, Boston. The announcement was the culmination of weeks of negotiations between IDG World Expo and representatives of both cities to see which could provide the best deal for one of the largest high-tech conferences in the country. (According to comments by IDG World Expo CEO Charlie Greco, the last Boston show in 1997 brought in $42 million for the city.)

However, later that same day Apple released the following statement: "Today IDG World Expo announced plans to move Macworld from New York to Boston in July of 2004. Apple disagrees with this decision, and will not be participating in Macworld Boston. Since IDG World Expo is no longer investing in New York, we now need to re-evaluate our participation in Macworld New York 2003. Apple will continue to participate in Macworld San Francisco in January."

The following day, IDG World Expo reiterated its plans to put on both shows, with or without Apple. Then, in a public salvo delivered over the weekend, Greco suggested in a Boston Globe interview that IDG World Expo might consider banning Apple from this January's San Francisco show, as well as from its events held in Tokyo and Paris.

<http://digitalmass.boston.com/news/globe_story.html?uri=/dailyglobe2/292/business/Trade_show_chief_hints_he_ll_squeeze_Apple-.shtml>

Apple hasn't responded publicly to Greco's threat, though it now appears that private discussions may be making progress. IDG World Expo told MacCentral (both companies are owned by IDG) today that Apple would be participating in the upcoming Macworld Expo in San Francisco in January. But there's still no word about what will happen with the East Coast events, and it's clear that both sides are putting on a show of force to see who will back down. Why all the fuss? Although money is definitely a major factor, there are other possible explanations.

<http://maccentral.macworld.com/news/0210/21.expo.php>

East Expo Expense -- Moving Macworld to Boston will be a great financial boon to IDG World Expo. Boston beat out New York by offering incentives such as reduced hotel rates, use of some city buildings for Macworld functions, steep discounts for exhibitor services, and a great rate for Boston's new convention center, which is scheduled to be completed by 2004 and will be large enough to house the expo (previous Boston expos required splitting the show between two venues, forcing awkward bus trips between the two).

However, as an exhibitor, Apple doesn't share in all the financial savings. According to Greco, Apple typically spends $4 million to $5 million at an expo for equipment and supplies, plus travel and lodging for hundreds of employees, along with the not insignificant costs of Steve Jobs's dramatic keynote addresses. Apple may have more than $4 billion in the bank, but as the overall technology market continues to falter, the company no doubt wants to put its money where it will have the most impact.

An Expo in Every Mall -- That impact is increasingly being met by Apple's retail stores (currently 53 locations either open or announced). Unlike Macworld Expo, where people can order products only from Apple's online store, Apple Stores are designed to make the purchasing process easy. Plus, although Macworld Expo may draw 50,000 or more people, Apple announced that 2.25 million people visited an Apple Store in the last three months.

Also worth considering is the fact that Macworld Expo attendees are for the most part already Apple customers, whereas people who wander into an Apple Store are more likely to be new to the platform. Call us cynical, but Apple may believe that marketing to existing customers simply isn't all that necessary; that could also account for why Apple advertises little in Macintosh publications.

Equally important is the fact that Apple Stores control the customer experience on an almost one-to-one basis. Rather than watch thousands of gawkers stream through the expo booth and fight to be heard among the loudspeakers and crowd noise, Apple can dictate how a customer's visit occurs from the moment he or she walks through the door. Since Steve Jobs's return to the company, Apple has been obsessed with controlling the Macintosh experience, whether by engineering Mac OS X so that developers have less leeway to adjust the operating system's look and feel, or by maintaining a tight lid on new products until Apple is ready to unveil them at a time and place of Apple's choosing.

In fact, you could argue that having a booth and hardware to display has become something of a formality for Apple. In the company's eyes, Macworld Expo is less about connecting with users or vendors, and more about generating the massive amount of press coverage that the show, and especially the keynote, can draw. Macworld Expo isn't a trade show for a niche computer manufacturer, it's an Event that receives worldwide media attention. If you're skeptical, consider the way the recent iMac redesign became a Time cover story (timed to coincide with the keynote so that attendees received a free copy, purchased by Apple, on their way out).

But Apple can't keep up the pace. After years of releasing new machines and software in January and July, it's become more difficult for Apple to live up to expectations by having "just one more thing" ready in the wings. At the last New York show, Jobs was rumored to be furious because delays in finishing Jaguar meant that the new line of Power Mac G4s weren't ready to be announced. The result was a greater emphasis on software that was on the verge of shipping (Jaguar), or not ready (iCal and the still-beta iSync).

The big announcement pattern has its destructive aspect too, as sales of existing products tend to drop off in the weeks leading up to the show; the current wisdom being that it's foolish to buy new hardware late in the year (during the important holiday retail season), because there's likely to be a computer processor speed bump or some completely different product at the show in January. To buck the trend, Apple has made several significant announcements, such as the release of the iPod and the newly redesigned iBook, during invitation-only press conferences at Apple's corporate campus throughout the year.

Apple's statement following the Boston announcement suggests that the company may be looking to concentrate on the January expo in San Francisco, which doesn't require nearly as much in the way of travel expenses but still results in huge media coverage. By dropping out of an East Coast show in July or August, Apple could more easily release products on a less predictable schedule and save millions of dollars.

Timing Is Everything -- According to reports, Apple's statement was a surprise to IDG World Expo, despite frequent contact between the two companies during the time IDG World Expo was talking to New York and Boston about the change of venue. It's hard to believe that the announcement was a complete surprise, though, especially considering Greco's comments to the Boston Globe indicating that he suspected months ago that Jobs was looking to reduce Apple's slate of shows. Instead, it sounds as if IDG World Expo assumed Apple would follow the expo wherever it ended up, so IDG World Expo forged ahead anyway. Apple - or more realistically, Jobs - took advantage of IDG's gaffe and dropped the bomb of pulling out of Boston and possibly New York at the point when IDG World Expo would be most vulnerable - and therefore most willing to negotiate in Apple's favor.

As a result, IDG World Expo finds itself fighting the perception that it didn't adequately communicate with its star attraction, while also needing to placate the cities of Boston and New York, with whom it no doubt has contractual obligations. And in an ugly step, Greco has taken the power struggle public, vowing to keep the other shows alive no matter what the cost.

Greco may have taken the debate to the press to force Apple's hand, but angering Steve Jobs by making Apple look bad doesn't seem like a recipe for success. It's equally disappointing to see Apple stick to the our-way-or-the-highway approach, but the fact is that a Macworld Expo without Apple would be a very different kettle of fish. Without Apple, attendance would undoubtedly slump and much of the press would skip the show entirely, both of which would reduce the visibility vendors receive for the significant expense of exhibiting. A domino effect could result, with Apple's exit causing the larger vendors to bow out, and making it even harder for smaller developers to justify spending marketing dollars to attend.

In such a situation, IDG World Expo could change the show to compensate, charging less for vendors to exhibit, concentrating more on the conference sessions, or giving away exhibit floor passes. But would such changes result in the kind of Macworld Expo users and vendors alike would want to attend? We hope Apple and IDG World Expo can stop their posturing and work out a compromise that keeps Apple involved in the Macworld Expos under terms acceptable to both companies and the rest of the Macintosh industry.


Palm Offers Low-price, No-frills Zire Handheld

by Mark H. Anbinder <mha@tidbits.com>

These days, personal digital assistants (PDAs) do just about everything. Recent handhelds from Palm, Compaq, Sony, Handspring, and others can not only organize users' lives, but also take pictures, check and send email, surf the Web, show off color photo albums, play music, or serve as a cell phone. And yet, for many handheld users use just the basics: calendar and contacts are still the primary uses for PDAs. For those users, Palm, Inc. this month introduced the no-nonsense $100 Zire handheld.

<http://www.palm.com/products/handhelds/zire/>

Zire Specs -- The Zire (pronounced like the second syllable of "desire") is truly a no-frills handheld. Like the original Pilot, it includes 2 MB of memory and a monochrome display (with no backlight, so forget about using it in the dark). More modern accoutrements include a built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery, infrared port, and Palm OS 4.1.

To keep things simple, Palm has included front-panel buttons only for the most commonly used applications, Date Book and Address Book. The To Do List, Memo Pad, and other standard applications are still provided in memory, but they don't clutter the Zire's pleasingly trim appearance. At 4.4 inches (11.2 cm) tall by 2.9 inch (7.4 cm) wide, the Zire is Palm's smallest handheld, though its 0.6 inch (1.5 cm) thickness isn't quite as slim as the svelte Palm m500 series or Palm Vx, or Handspring's Visor Edge, which all measure about 0.4 inches (1.0 cm) deep.

Abandoning the "Universal Connector" introduced with the m500 series, the Zire includes a mini USB cable for synchronizing to any USB-capable Mac or Windows computer. As such, there's no serial port support for synching or adding peripherals, and it has no expansion card slot. This means power users or feature freaks should look at other models. A simple charging cable has replaced the cradles of other models; frequent travelers might want to leave it at home, though, in favor of the capability to charge the battery (albeit more slowly) through the USB cable attached to your Mac.

Will the Zire's cost-saving monochrome screen (we're talking black and white here, not even grayscale) be too limiting? I doubt it, since the target audience that needs to keep track of names, numbers, and appointments will likely use the handheld for little else. The grayscale and color screens on the more expensive Palm models mostly come in handy for Web graphics and games, and the color screens also dramatically decrease battery life. Although Palm's customer research revealed that users rarely made use of the backlight on their handhelds, I'd still prefer to see one on the Zire for occasional nocturnal use.

Zire versus m105 -- The big question now is whether you should purchase the Zire for $100, or spend the same money on Palm's previous entry-level handheld, the Palm m105. In terms of cold specs, the m105 is a clear winner: it comes with 8 MB of memory and a backlit grayscale screen. On the other hand, the m105 also requires AAA batteries for power, runs Palm OS 3.5 (though for most users this isn't a noticeable difference), and isn't as small, light, or sleek looking as the Zire. (The Web page below offers a comparison chart among Palm's currently shipping models.)

<http://www.palm.com/products/family.html>

What's nice about the Zire is Palm's approach: not everyone is looking for a full-fledged computer to put in their pocket, and the people who want some sort of electronic organizer are smart enough to steer clear of cheap Palm knock-offs. The Zire embodies many of the same attributes as an older device that promised to be the one for "the rest of us."


TidBITS Troubleshooting Primer, Part 1

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

There's no point in pretending that problems never happen. Although this may be a typically male viewpoint, life - computer life and life in general - can be seen as nothing but problems ("challenges," "opportunities") and solutions. What has always amazed us is the level to which people without much technical experience assume that they can't possibly solve computer problems. Although specialized knowledge certainly helps, troubleshooting is a universal skill. If you can figure out why your brakes are squeaking or why the sewing machine is jamming, you can figure out computer-related problems. Despite what many non-computer people think, there's no real difference.

For those of you who find tracking down and eliminating a problem intimidating, here's a guide that walks you through how I troubleshoot problems of all types. (This article is adapted from the troubleshooting chapter I wrote for the book my friend Glenn Fleishman and I are co-authoring right now, tentatively titled The Wireless Networking Starter Kit.)

The most important piece of advice I can give up front is: Be methodical. If you start trying solutions without thinking about what caused the problem and what the effect of any given solution may be, you just end up complicating the entire situation. The best way to encourage a methodical approach is to take notes about what you see (especially any error messages), what you do, and the effects of what you do.

Describe the Problem -- The first step in troubleshooting is to identify the problem and gather information about it. That sounds simple, and it usually is, because most problems aren't particularly subtle. Perhaps you can't send email, or your one wired computer isn't visible to the computers on your wireless network.

It's important to determine if the problem is reproducible or intermittent. Although an intermittent problem may be less irksome than a reproducible problem if you can keep working through it, intermittent problems are much harder to track down, because one of the variables involved is related to a time- or state-related fact. Reproducible problems almost beg to be solved, because you can't keep working until you've solved the problem.

Pay attention to any visible indicators that might give more information about the problem. For instance, many devices have status LEDs that indicate whether a device is turned on and if it's performing some sort of activity. If those LEDs aren't working the way you expect, record that information.

Break the System Apart -- Once you have a firm grasp on the problem, you need to start breaking the system related to the problem into discrete steps or pieces. Then you can start analyzing different parts of the whole. The hard part here is that you may not realize what the different parts of the system are, making it difficult to understand how one could fail. But if you think about what's involved in using the system, you should be able to determine most of the parts.

For instance, take the example of a wireless network that also has one computer connected via an Ethernet cable. In this sample network, the one wired computer is used as an informal file server. You're using one of the wireless computers, and you suddenly can't connect to a shared folder that's worked fine before. What are the pieces of this system? Let's determine what must be true for the situation to work properly, after which we can analyze each of the components.

You could certainly break these pieces into even smaller pieces, but this should be sufficient to get started.

Keep in mind that what I've just described is only one working system, which is important, because if there are other working systems - other wireless computers that can see the file server - that can help you zoom in on the problem quickly.

Note all of the pieces of the system briefly in your notebook, and if you're a picture person, consider drawing yourself a diagram of how it all fits together; this can come in especially handy if you actually need to break the system apart by disconnecting cables or rearranging equipment.

Ask Yourself Questions -- Now that you've identified all the parts of the system, it's time to look carefully at each part, making up a possible reason why a failure at that point could be responsible for the whole problem. In our example, let's take each part and analyze it, asking questions that lead to tests.

I mentioned the difference between reproducible and intermittent problems above; if you have an intermittent problem connecting to the wired Ethernet computer, that generates additional questions.

Jot these questions down in your notebook, numbering them so you can easily refer back to them when your tests start providing answers.

Answer Questions -- Once you have your list of questions, revisit it and think about which test you must perform to come up with an answer to each question. Separate your questions roughly into easy, moderate, and hard categories (you might write an E, M, or H next to each question's number in the margin).

Also give your intuition a chance to work. If you have a nagging feeling that your spouse might have let your 4-year-old nephew play a game on the wired Ethernet computer, start with that machine. Or, if you just had to reset the access point to factory default settings for another reason, start there.

Wherever you choose to start, begin with tests that eliminate the easiest questions first. For instance, it's trivial to check if your nephew kicked the Ethernet cable out of the jack; there's no reason to consider reinstalling the entire operating system on that machine until you've exhausted every easier option.

Working methodically is essential at this point, and if you change something in a way that significantly changes the overall system, it's best (if possible) to put it back so the situation stays the same as when you analyzed the problem. For instance, if you had been thinking about installing a new access point that you'd just bought, don't do it in the middle of the troubleshooting process or you risk confusing everything.

Make sure to check off each question you answer in your notebook, and note any interesting things that happen when you perform the test. I don't suggest you do this because you're going to forget what you've done while you're troubleshooting, but because you may have forgotten by the next time the problem happens. Plus, if you end up wanting to ask someone else for help, you can say authoritatively that you had indeed tried some test with negative results.

In most situations, the solution to your problem will make itself clear during this process of answering questions. Perhaps it's summer, and the reinstallation of your screen door is blocking the Wi-Fi signal, or perhaps your spouse configured the computer in an unusual way for your nephew's game. Maybe your access point lost track of the wireless-to-wired Ethernet bridge settings, or maybe your computer or the access point just needed to be restarted.

Get Expert Help -- With truly tricky problems, your tests won't reveal any conclusive answers. Don't feel too bad, because if you've followed the procedure so far carefully, your failing is most likely that you don't understand all the parts of the system well enough. What to do next? Ask for help, of course, and that's where I'll look in the next part of this article.


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