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iPhoto 4 features substantial speed improvements, but what else is new in Apple's photo management application? Adam reports on the positives and negatives. Also this week, Apple becomes debt-free, music zips through the air legally in Austin, Texas, and the AppleWorks User Group passes on news of corruption-stopping AppleWorks utilities. We also note the releases of Interarchy 7.0, iSight 1.0.2, Security Update 2004-02-23, and new RSS feeds from Apple.
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Security Update 2004-02-23 Available -- Apple today released Security Update 2004-02-23, adding fixes for a number of Mac OS X components, including DiskArbitration, IPSec, and Point-to-Point Protocol. For Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, the update includes a fix for tcpdump; for Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, the update also includes fixes for Safari as well as Security Update 2003-11-19, which included fixes for Personal File Sharing, QuickTime for Java, and a number of Unix components. Security Update 2004-02-23 is available as a 1.6 MB download for Panther (5.1 MB for Jaguar) via Software Update or via Apple's Web site. [ACE]
Interarchy 7.0 Adds Tabs, Improves Interface -- Stairways Software has released Interarchy 7.0, the latest version of their flexible Internet file transfer and network utility. For Interarchy 7.0, Stairways has concentrated in large part on enhancing the interface, pulling approaches from a number of common Apple programs. Interarchy 7.0 offers Safari-like tabs so you can avoid having many windows to different FTP sites open simultaneously, adds a Finder-like icon view to the existing list and column views, and provides a bookmark management approach reminiscent of Safari's bookmark collections. Other welcome improvements include a single combined Transfers window, Mac OS X-style toolbars in every window, a History menu for recent actions, and a new Network Host Info window that displays IP address, ping results, MX records, and DNS information. Under the hood, Interarchy is now completely Mac OS X native, using Carbon events and native core networking. Like previous versions, Interarchy 7.0 can upload and download files via FTP, SFTP, FTP/SSH, and can download files or entire Web sites via HTTP, all with a variety of repeating, scheduling, and link checking options. Beyond file transfer, the program also features a suite of network testing tools including packet watching, port scanning, bandwidth monitoring, and more. Interarchy 7.0 costs $40, with free upgrades from the previous version for anyone who purchased since 01-Oct-03 and $20 for those who purchased before that date. Interarchy 7.0 requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later and is a 2.7 MB download. [ACE]
iSight 1.0.2 Software Released -- Apple has improved the software for its sleek iSight video camera. The iSight 1.0.2 update improves auto exposure, auto white balance, and overall performance. It also enhances compliance with IIDC, the specification governed by the 1394 Trade Association used for PC-to-camera communications over FireWire. The iSight 1.0.2 update is available via Software Update or as a free 512K download, and requires Mac OS X 10.2.8 or Mac OS X 10.3.2 or higher. [JLC]
Apple Adds More RSS Syndication Feeds -- Apple has quietly offered RSS-based news feeds for a while, but the company recently added a page that lists every feed, which includes many subcategories. For instance, you can monitor all the latest downloads, or just downloads by category. Likewise, you can get an update whenever iTunes songs are posted in certain genres, or generate your own custom query.
If you haven't heard of RSS (Really Simple Syndication, among other expansions), it is a simple way for a Web site to format (or "syndicate") a list of their latest headlines or Web log entries so that a corresponding RSS news reader can subscribe to a given set of headlines, given the feed's URL. In Apple's case, you Control-click the XML icon next to the feed name and copy the URL to the clipboard before pasting it into your RSS news reader. (And yes, TidBITS offers an RSS feed as well via the first link below.) With RSS, you control the subscription, and your email address isn't passed to the site. I wrote a lengthy piece for The Seattle Times about RSS recently. A popular Mac OS X RSS news reader is the free NetNewsWire Lite from Ranchero Software. The $40 NetNewsWire lets you post blog entries to popular blogging software and hosts. [GF]
Adam Interviewed on The User Group Report -- If you'd like to hear a radio interview I did with Chuck Joiner of The User Group Report about our Take Control project and the new Take Control User Group Program we've started, head over the page below. Astonishingly, I don't even sound as though I'd been up half the night before with a sick kid! [ACE]
by Glenn Fleishman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Apple is known for drawing attention to itself, but last week even its harshest critics must have looked at the company in a new light. As reported by the Wall Street Journal (paid subscription required to view the first URL, below), Steve Jobs announced in an email message to employees that Apple had paid off the company's remaining $300 million in long-term debt. This means Apple is now basically debt-free and has over $4.5 billion in cash and cash equivalents - things it can sell off without penalty like bonds and short-term investments. This doesn't include any stock in other companies that might still have value, too.
The next time someone tells you Apple is in danger of imminent demise because they have under $10 billion in yearly sales and three percent of the market share of all new computers sold, you might point out that $4.5 billion war chest, which compares favorably to Dell ($50 billion in yearly revenue, but $4.6 billion in cash minus long-term debt), Gateway ($3.5 billion in yearly sales, $1 billion in cash minus debt), and HP ($73 billion in sales, $7.5 billion in cash minus debt). For purposes of comparison, Microsoft has $35 billion in yearly revenue and nearly $53 billion in cash (no debt).
Because Apple has so much cash on hand and because it's regularly producing positive audited earnings (so-called GAAP, or "Generally Accepted Accounting Principles," earnings), the company isn't in imminent danger of anything. At the current rate, it will just keep amassing more and more cash.
With these types of numbers, it's possible that Apple might consider offering stock dividends, which Microsoft finally started releasing in January 2003. It would be a way to turn cash into stockholder-owned equity without necessarily hurting the business.
One final note. Apple's formal price-to-earnings ratio (P/E, or the value of its stock compared to its per-share net earnings) is nearly 60, far above the 10 to 20 range that most stock analysts believe is a sensible range based on continued reasonable growth of a mature company. However, the financial magazine Barron's recently noted that if you removed the $12 per share of cash that Apple has ($4.5 billion divided by 369.73 million outstanding shares) from the price, the remaining P/E is a more reasonable number - in the 20s.
(Although we're talking about financial performance and comparisons here, don't mistake us for stock advisers. We're not recommending Apple's stock, just providing some talking points.)
by Glenn Fleishman <email@example.com>
Two organizations in Austin, Texas, are bringing the music of local independent bands to users of free local wireless networks - legally, thanks to the music sharing features built into iTunes. Austin Wireless and Less Networks, which help businesses offer free Wi-Fi hotspots by providing technical advice and free hotspot gateway software, have created a music library containing 36 hours of music available at any free location.
The groups worked with the legendary music and technology festival South by Southwest (SXSW), which annually brings music industry figures, performers, and creative technologists together to look at the state of and future of performance. Through the end of March, the music will be available at the 25 Austin-area businesses that are participants in Austin Wireless's network.
To use iTunes music sharing, you need to have at least version 4.0 of iTunes installed on a Mac or Windows system, and make sure that your firewall is set to allow it. If you're using the built-in firewall feature of Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar or Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, open System Preferences, select the Internet preference pane, click the Firewall tab, and make sure iTunes Music Sharing is enabled. Or, if you're using another firewall, add a rule that allows traffic over port 3689. (This may not be necessary to mount a remotely shared iTunes music library, but only to share your own.)
The Less Networks software component of this system allows hotspots to register users who then have free access. The software acts as a gateway where users at a location confirm that they agree to a set of usage guidelines; the software also tracks usage in aggregate to better gauge whether Wi-Fi is driving business to the company at the hotspot location.
This music sharing is meant to tweak Starbucks, which has offered limited in-store exclusive music via the T-Mobile HotSpot network operated in nearly 3,000 coffee shops in the U.S. Where the Austin project offers free Internet access over Wi-Fi, T-Mobile charges $6 per hour (minimum one hour), $10 per day, or $20 to $40 per month for unlimited access with cancellation penalties.
(Here's a tip to Comcast subscribers: a T-Mobile promotion with Comcast allows any Comcast subscriber to purchase a single T-Mobile $10 day pass and then receive one day pass free each month through December.)
by Warren Williams & Cathleen Merritt, AWUG
Apple recently released a pair of software packages that resolve corruption problems occasionally encountered when saving AppleWorks files on a server. The corruption, which prevents users of AppleWorks 6.2.8 or earlier from opening files, occurs if you are running any version of AppleWorks 6 under Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar and use AppleWorks's Save or Save As command to save your work on an AppleShare or other Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) server.
As a workaround, you can save files on your hard disk then copy them to a server using the Finder without fear of corruption. Users running AppleWorks 6 under Mac OS X 10.3 Panther won't experience this problem.
Apple's two new software releases fix the problem and let AppleWorks users repair previously corrupted files; they add no new features to AppleWorks.
Fixing the Problem -- Apple's new AFP Client Update 1.0 resolves the AppleWorks file corruption problem on the Jaguar user's Mac, enabling files to be saved to a server without corruption. Installing AFP Client Update 1.0 also reportedly prevents open AppleWorks files from being corrupted on logout. The AFP Client Update 1.0 is a 580K download from Apple's Web site.
We recommend this update to all AppleWorks 6 users who are running under Jaguar and saving files on a server. Users running under Panther need not install this update; nor is there any reason to install it if you never save files to a server.
Fixing the Files -- AppleWorks 6.2.9 includes built-in file repair routines that automatically fix these corrupt files when they're opened. The repaired files may then be saved without corruption as long as the user is using Panther, or Jaguar with AFP Client Update 1.0 installed. And once those files have been repaired, older versions of AppleWorks 6 can open and save the files with no trouble (as long as the users of those older versions are also running under Panther, or Jaguar with AFP Client Update installed).
The simple fix for corrupted files is thus to upgrade to AppleWorks 6.2.9 and, if you're still using Jaguar, to install the AFP Client Update. However, network administrators who want to fix many files at once may find it worthwhile to use Apple's new AppleWorks File Repair Utility 1.0 to fix damaged files. To fix a damaged file, just drag it onto the AppleWorks File Repair Utility. Unfortunately the utility works by creating a new version of the file, after which you need to remove the old file and rename the new one. You can download the 436K utility from Apple's Web site.
To stay up to date on important news about AppleWorks, consider subscribing to the AppleWorks News Service, a low-volume mailing list run by the 15,000-member AppleWorks User Group.
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Let's not beat around the bush. iPhoto 4 is better than iPhoto 2 in almost every way, and its performance is so much improved that if you currently use iPhoto 2, you should immediately ante up $50 for iLife '04 or, if you've been hankering for one anyway, a new Mac. On the other hand, if you rely on other programs to import, organize, and edit your photos, iPhoto 4 doesn't offer enough new to warrant the cost of iLife '04 on its own.
What's New and Improved? The iPhoto engineers deserve credit for speeding up iPhoto to such a great extent that it's impossible to quantify the performance improvements. Scrolling through a large iPhoto library no longer produces the spinning pizza of death, switching between modes happens nearly instantly, resizing the window fluidly is actually possible, and basically everything else works at a totally acceptable speed. The only actions I've found poky are occasional slowdowns between drawing a pixelated image and the final smooth one (mostly with very large photos) and occasional odd delays when Control-clicking albums to edit them.
Rendezvous-based photo sharing is probably iPhoto 4's sexiest feature, since many people wish to share photos with other people on their local network (but not the Internet), and it indeed works well for enabling someone to view and copy your photos. However, photo sharing is read-only; the other person cannot edit your photos, change titles or keywords, or use your images to build a book. For those activities, the photo must be copied locally first.
Perhaps my favorite new feature in iPhoto is photo ratings - a 1 to 5 star rating system that mimics the one in iTunes. Although I can't imagine someone expending the effort of distinguishing between a really lousy picture (that was somehow good enough to avoid being deleted) with 1 star and a somewhat lousy picture with 2 star, the higher star ratings simplify separating out your favorite images from the many plebeian pictures that have mostly documentary value.
iPhoto 4's addition of smart albums makes photo ratings useful. A smart album, like a smart playlist in iTunes (sensing a trend here?) populates itself automatically with photos that match the criteria you set. So, you could easily create a smart album that selects your favorite photos (4 or 5 stars), or even your favorite vacation photos (4 or 5 stars for photos taken during specific date ranges or in specific film rolls). iPhoto 4 includes some built-in smart albums that collect photos taken in each of the last four years, over the last few months, and the last few imports.
Smart albums can construct themselves according to a number of criteria, but as much as they're cool and useful, they suffer from one major problem - the need for manually created metadata. When you import a CD, iTunes automatically looks up the CD's title, artist, track names, and more from the Gracenote CDDB; any smart playlists you create use that information, along with metadata that iTunes generates automatically, like play count and last played dates. The only metadata you must assign manually is rating, although you can edit a track's ID3 tags if you desire. In iPhoto, by contrast, you must enter manually almost all the metadata you'll use with a smart album, and people are notoriously bad about adding metadata.
Part of the reason I'm bullish about ratings is that they're easier to apply than other types of metadata, thanks to omnipresent keyboard shortcuts (Command-1 through Command-5). These and other keyboard shortcuts work even when you're viewing a slideshow in iPhoto 4, so you can rotate, delete, and rate photos while watching, and you can do it all from the keyboard if you don't want to display the new slideshow controls. (Ironically, iTunes lacks these keyboard shortcuts, and I find myself using utilities to rate songs from the keyboard because of that.) Speaking of slideshows, iPhoto 4 can finally use an entire iTunes playlist instead of repeating just a single song (a painfully obvious failing that persisted into iPhoto 2), and they also provide a choice of Keynote-inspired transitions between slides.
People pining for a selective import in iPhoto (like Apple's Image Capture utility provides) will still be disappointed, but in iPhoto 4 selective import would be welcome primarily for quick imports of only a few select images from a large memory card. In earlier versions, many people (myself included) avoided iPhoto's all-or-nothing import to ensure that each film roll contained only related images. iPhoto 4 lets you create new film rolls from selected photos, and you can also drag photos from one film roll to another. It's a great feature, since film rolls are in many ways iPhoto's best organizational feature.
Along with these major features, iPhoto offers a number of smaller, but no less welcome, changes. You can now edit the titles, comments, or dates of a set of photos simultaneously, which makes fixing improperly dated photos a breeze and definitely makes adding metadata easier. A new Sepia button gives photos that old-time look. A new Collage book theme looks attractive, and Apple can now deliver books and prints to addresses in Japan and according to the iLife product manager, in several European countries starting 18-Mar-04. .Mac members now have the choice of a number of new HomePage themes (though I'd like to see some more elegant designs), and even better, iPhoto can now replace a HomePage album, so you need not login to .Mac to make changes (although iPhoto re-uploads the entire set of photos rather than just the changed photos or titles).
What's Still Missing? All that sounds great, so what's my beef with iPhoto 4? As soon as I saw the very first version of iPhoto, I was impressed, because Apple clearly understood what a consumer-level photo management program needed to do. But as much as iPhoto covered the necessary ground on paper, the application itself continues to suffer from glaring holes that have been painfully obvious from day one. I'm undoubtedly more familiar with iPhoto than just about anyone, since I've actually tested every function in every version of the program while writing my iPhoto Visual QuickStart Guide books, but the complaints I'm about to list aren't just my pet peeves, they're also the concerns I've heard from hundreds of iPhoto users in email and at talks I've given.
(As an aside, for amusing evidence that even Apple understands the importance of at least some these features, iPhoto's Help until today contained a document called "What's new in iPhoto 3" (it currently retains that title, but the content has been updated for iPhoto 4). There was no external release of iPhoto 3, of course, so this document must have been a wish list or been left over from a version left for the future. You can read the original text in TidBITS Talk.)
For many people, iPhoto 2's abysmal performance with thousands of photos required the creation of multiple iPhoto Library folders. Other people rely on multiple libraries to separate unrelated photos (work and personal pictures, for instance). iPhoto 2 provided only the most half-hearted capabilities for creating and switching among iPhoto Library folders. It was saved by a hidden Mac OS X shortcut: if you Command-Option-drag a file to any application on the Dock, that application will attempt to open the file, even if it's not that application's file. In iPhoto 2, if you Command-Option-dragged an iPhoto Library folder to iPhoto's icon, iPhoto would switch to that folder. Unfortunately, since the iPhoto team wasn't aware of this shortcut, they managed to break it in iPhoto 4. Now the best way to switch among iPhoto Library folders is via Brian Webster's free iPhoto Library Manager utility. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to merge iPhoto libraries; the best approach is probably to burn photos to a CD or DVD and import them (thus retaining keywords, which doesn't happen when copying photos via photo sharing) again from disc.
iPhoto Library Manager also provides a clumsy workaround for another glaring iPhoto 4 omission: the capability to share an iPhoto Library among multiple users of the same Mac. This points out a limitation in the concept of iPhoto 4's Rendezvous photo sharing as well. The problem is that for couples, photos are usually a shared resource to which either person can add titles, keywords, comments, or ratings. But iPhoto 4 doesn't make it easy for two people to work on the same set of photos from multiple accounts or multiple Macs. There are workarounds that involve external or network volumes (explained with detailed steps in "Take Control of Sharing Files in Panther") or changing permissions constantly (which is what iPhoto Library Manager does), but this should be built in to iPhoto. Apple is responsible for breaking everything apart for multiple users in Mac OS X; it's their responsibility to make sharing data between those users easy.
Perhaps the most troubling omission in iPhoto 4 is that it still provides no method of exporting metadata you create, which is yet another reason many people don't bother putting the effort in. Think about it - more so than any other data you create, you want your photos to last forever. They'll be even more important to you in 50 years than they are now, and you should be able to pass them along to your children or to institutional archives when you die. Ignoring the silly question of whether Apple will update iPhoto for the rest of time, the near term answer to this problem is an export capability that lets users retain any metadata they've applied.
Where should this metadata live? There's a specification called EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) that many digital cameras use to store metadata in the JPEG files they create. Perhaps there are technical concerns surrounding the use of EXIF data, but on the face of things, Apple could use it for storing titles, ratings, and more.
Smart albums are useful, but for many people who have become accustomed to hierarchical filing systems such as used by the Finder, iPhoto's lack of hierarchical albums is bedeviling. Sure, you can concoct a smart album to hold all your vacation photos, but you can't have a Vacation Photos album that contains sub-albums for each vacation. iPhoto has done a good job of mimicking iTunes; perhaps it should look at the Finder next.
There's one final omission made all the more egregious by comparison with the Finder. Perhaps the primary point of a graphical interface is direct manipulation of objects, yet iPhoto still refuses to allow direct naming of photos or film rolls, as you do with files and folders in the Finder or with songs in iTunes. Instead, you must select the item in question and then enter the name in the info pane. You can apply ratings directly, through a hierarchical contextual menu, but adding keywords and changing dates must also be done at arm's length from the actual target of the action.
Development Sloppiness -- Apple fixed a number of bugs in iPhoto 2 that I ran across while writing about it, but they've managed to introduce an entirely new crop that you may find irritating. If you set the option to place most recent photos at top, creating or modifying film rolls reverses that setting until you open and close iPhoto's Preferences window. Control-clicking a photo in a separate image-editing window displays a contextual menu of editing commands, of which Sepia is always disabled. (Ironically, in iPhoto 2, Enhance was always disabled in that menu, though it works now.) If you duplicate a photo that you've edited in any way other than rotating (and sometimes even rotating), duplicates made of that photo do not get "copy" appended to their titles, making identification of the duplicates hard. You can delete photos from the Last Months and Last Rolls albums just as you would from the Photo Library, except for dragging to the Trash album, which works only from the Photo Library. And lastly, if you select any album, iPhoto shows you the amount of disk space the album takes up... except for the one album whose physical size on disk matters most: the Trash. (Work around this by selecting all the photos in the Trash album; the info pane then shows you the amount of disk space used by the selection.)
These aren't subtle bugs - I've found them merely by monkeying through iPhoto's interface while updating my iPhoto book, and I can't believe any of them would be hard to fix. Perhaps we'll see a 4.0.1 release that will fix these bugs, though I'm not holding my breath, since there was no 2.0.1 to fix the similarly obvious bugs in iPhoto 2. Looking forward to the next major release of iPhoto, I'm more than happy to do this with a feature-complete beta release so I can report the bugs directly to Apple for fixing rather than telling the world about them in the release version and attempting to come up with workarounds for my book.
In the end, I'm left frustrated by iPhoto because it constantly displays glimpses of greatness that are then promptly undercut by obviously missing features and boneheaded bugs. I expect better from Apple, and as I've done with the last two major releases of iPhoto, I'll hold out hope that a full year of development time will allow the iPhoto team to make great strides for iPhoto 5.
by TidBITS Staff <email@example.com>
Konfabulator -- Following Adam's review of Konfabulator, readers discuss the utility - is it truly useful, or just well-done eye candy that takes up too much screen space? (14 messages)
Eudora and Web browsers -- Is it possible, when clicking a URL in Eudora, to open the link in whichever Web browser is currently running? AppleScript to the rescue! (5 messages)
Digital signatures in TidBITS -- Should mailing lists use digital signatures to ensure that only messages from subscribers get through? (8 messages)
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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