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TidBITS#723/29-Mar-04

Tired of your squishy Apple Pro Keyboard? Adam reviews the Matias Tactile Pro Keyboard, the first keyboard he's found that matches the feel and response of Apple's late, great Extended Keyboard. Adam also looks at iChat AV's confusing states, offering a few suggestions to help prevent unwanted chat intrusions. Elsewhere in this issue, we note the releases of iChat AV 2.1, iPhoto 4.0.1, Timbuktu Pro 7.0.1, and the discontinuation of FrameMaker for the Macintosh.

Topics:

Copyright 2004 TidBITS: Reuse governed by Creative Commons license
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MailBITS/29-Mar-04

iChat AV 2.1 Adds Videoconferencing with Windows -- If you've been wanting to participate in video or audio chats with Windows-using friends, last week's release is what you've been waiting for. iChat AV 2.1 enables videoconferencing between you and a friend using AOL Instant Messenger 5.5 for Windows. Apple lists no other changes in the free update, which requires Mac OS X 10.3 or later running a Mac with at least a 600 MHz PowerPC G3 processor. (Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar users remain locked at iChat AV 2.0, which costs $30.) The update is a 4.3 MB download and is available via Software Update or as a separate download. [ACE]

<http://www.apple.com/ichat/>
<http://www.apple.com/support/downloads/ichatav.html>

Adobe Discontinues FrameMaker for Macintosh -- In an unsurprising announcement, Adobe Systems said that it would discontinue the Macintosh version of the high-end publishing program FrameMaker as of 21-Apr-04. Support for FrameMaker 7.1 for the Mac will continue through 21-Apr-05. Adobe never brought FrameMaker to Mac OS X, forcing long-time users to run it in Mac OS X's Classic environment. The move leaves Macintosh FrameMaker users with several unpalatable options: switch to Windows (or Solaris), where Adobe plans to continue developing FrameMaker, or move to InDesign CS, which lacks some of FrameMaker's features for handling long documents and XML imports and exports. [ACE]

<http://maccentral.macworld.com/news/2004/03/23/framemaker/>
<http://www.adobe.com/products/framemaker/main.html>

iPhoto 4.0.1 Fixes Bugs -- Apple has released iPhoto 4.0.1, an important bug fix update to the company's photo management program. Although Apple's release notes are, as usual, short on specifics, iPhoto 4.0.1 features improved performance, better thumbnail rendering, and numerous bug fixes that Apple claims improve stability. I've been able to confirm that the Trash album now reports its size, the Sepia command in the image editing window's contextual menu is no longer disabled, Originals folders are now burned to disc properly, and modifying film rolls no longer changes your overall sort order. Other bugs remain, such as the one that forgets to add "copy" to the name of edited photos you duplicate. The only new feature I found while checking the final draft of my iPhoto 4 Visual QuickStart Guide is that slideshows now play on the monitor containing the iPhoto window, assuming you have multiple monitors.

<http://www.apple.com/ilife/iphoto/>
<http://www.apple.com/support/downloads/iphoto_readme.html>

The improved thumbnail rendering requires that iPhoto upgrade your thumbnails; it's a slow process that took an hour for my 6,100 photos. Short of that, iPhoto 4.0.1 has been more stable in my testing, although some users on Apple's discussion boards have reported problems with launching the application and with losing transitions in slideshows. The problems appear to be related to permissions within the iPhoto application bundle; the usual troubleshooting steps may help (repair permissions using Disk Utility, delete the com.apple.iphoto.plist file from your ~/Library/Preferences folder, reinstall iPhoto, and run DiskWarrior to fix directory problems). If those fail, try the user-posted fix at the first URL below. iPhoto 4.0.1 is a 4 MB download via Software Update; it's also available for independent download. [ACE]

<http://discussions.info.apple.com/WebX?14@71.8BMraVsOibP.0@.6890942e/39>
<http://www.apple.com/support/downloads/iphoto.html>

Timbuktu Pro 7.0.1 Fixes Tab Problem -- Netopia last week released Timbuktu Pro 7.0.1, which includes a short list of minor fixes and one big one. If a user of version 7.0 hit the Tab key while in a remote control session that wasn't sized to full screen, the buttons along the side of the Timbuktu menu would become selected. Restoring the capability to type required switching in and out of full-screen mode.

<http://www.netopia.com/en-us/support/technotes/software/tb2mac/latestnews.html#7.0.1>

The problem with the Tab key wasn't precisely Netopia's. The accessibility and customization controls in Mac OS X 10.3 Panther include one tucked away in the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane; the Turn On Full Keyboard Access option, in the Keyboard Shortcuts tab, was the culprit. The 7.0.1 update resolves the conflict by ignoring this setting within the program. Timbuktu Pro 7.0.1 is a free 4.6 MB download (a version 7.0 serial number and activation code is required to download the installer). [GF]

<http://www.netopia.com/support/technotes/software/tb2mac/tb2macupgrade7_01.html>

DealBITS Drawing: SmileOnMyMac Winners -- Congratulations to Caleb Clauset of 2cdesign.org, Maarten Festen of csi.com, and Nick Avery of sympatico.ca, whose entries were chosen randomly in last week's DealBITS drawing and who will be receiving a copy of SmileOnMyMac's PDFpen 1.2. Don't despair if we didn't pick your entry, since SmileOnMyMac is offering a special $5 discount on PDFpen only for TidBITS readers, bringing the price from $29.95 down to $24.95. The discount is good through 09-Apr-04 via the second link below. Thanks to the 885 people who entered, and keep an eye out for future DealBITS drawings. [ACE]

<http://www.smileonmymac.com/pdfpen/>
<http://www.smileonmymac.com/pdfpen/dealbits.html>
<http://www.tidbits.com/dealbits/smileonmymac.html>
<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=07593>


iChat Status Report

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

Apple's inclusion of iChat in Mac OS X managed to convince me of the utility of instant messaging, something no other instant messaging program had managed to do. The difference was simple ubiquity; suddenly most of the people I wanted to communicate with also had iChat installed. Thanks to iChat, the TidBITS production process, which involves trading various drafts of the issue among Jeff Carlson, Geoff Duncan, and myself, didn't require nearly as many phone calls on Monday. It hasn't eliminated them entirely, and in fact, we often use iChat as a way of checking to see if it's a good time to talk on the phone. Many chats also evolve into phone conversations as one of us gets tired of typing; we usually announce such an event by dialing the other person's number and typing "ring" into iChat. (It was funny the first time or two; now it's become habit, so much so that when someone else started an iChat with Jeff Carlson by typing "ring" recently, Jeff assumed it was me.)

As an aside, you might ask why we don't use iChat AV's voice or video chat capabilities. The simple reason is that the iSight camera Apple sent me for review stopped working reliably at some point, and I became tired of troubleshooting it every time I wanted to use it. The issues I raised with Apple PR fell through the cracks at some point, and I never found the time to bring them back up. One of these days...

Despite its undeniable utility, I retain a love-hate relationship with iChat, and after much consideration, I've realized that it has almost nothing to do with actually using the program, but with the limited ways that the program lets me manage my availability with different groups of people.

Status Quo -- To refresh your memory, iChat has four states inherited from AOL Instant Messenger (the network iChat uses): Offline, Away, Available, and Idle. When you're Offline, no one can see you or start a chat, and more annoyingly, you can't see anyone else or start any chats either. In contrast, when you're Away, Available, or Idle, others can see your status and originate chats. With one exception, the difference between Away and Available is purely cosmetic (a red square versus a green ball, or red and green colored spheres if you don't want to see the shapes). However, that exception is significant: when you're Available but haven't touched your keyboard or mouse in 5 or 10 minutes, iChat can optionally change your state to Idle (if you don't allow people to see that you're idle, iChat instead switches to Away state after some period of time). In both Away and Available states, you can customize the message people see; in the Idle state, iChat reports only how long you've been idle.

The custom messages are important, since they let you refine the basic states... but only for other iChat users, since users of other instant messaging programs may not see them. Nonetheless, for those who do see your messages, there's a big difference between "Don't Bug Me!" in Away state and "Reading email" in Available state. Of course, using programs like iChatStatus, you can have a variety of automatic messages appear instead, but as amusing as they are, they don't help manage your availability states.

<http://ittpoi.com/>

These four states are augmented by a number of privacy features. You can allow anyone, anyone in your Buddy List, or specific people to see when you're online (which also lets them initiate chats). You can also block everyone or only specific people. Unfortunately, these privacy options don't extend to the groups you can create in iChat, which would be highly welcome. If you don't want others to see that you're slacking, or if you're concerned about advertising that your Mac is unattended (and thus vulnerable to theft), you can set an option that blocks others from seeing when you're in the Idle state.

Understanding Status -- I can't speak to whether or not this approach to advertising one's status works for teenagers and those using chat for social purposes. I can say with some assurance, though, that it drives me absolutely batty, because it in no way matches the way I wish to make my availability known.

At this point in my life, I don't use my Mac idly. Even assuming I didn't always have something to write or edit (which I do; darn those weekly TidBITS deadlines!), my Eudora In box constantly mocks me with its ever-expanding girth (closing in on 1,200 messages at the moment). So if I'm at the computer, I'm working, and I'd like to be able to set my availability based on the level to which I mind being interrupted, and by whom. If I'm just reading email for the day, an iChat interruption with a friend isn't much of a bother, and I can often maintain the chat while going through email. If I'm writing or editing, though, interruptions aren't at all welcome, unless they're from someone who's working with me on the same project. For instance, on Mondays, I spend most of the day editing and writing up last-minute articles, and interruptions are welcome only from TidBITS staffers and any external authors whose articles we're editing.

I'm sure others have different modes of working, and a number of people shared them on TidBITS Talk in a pair of threads I started to see what others thought. But the fact that's become clear from those discussions and from talking to some of the people I do chat with regularly is that the current Offline/Available/Away/Idle states are rather confused.

<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tlkthrd=2112+2195>

For starters, Offline reflects both the state of iChat (if it's not running for whatever reason, you're Offline) and a working state in which you can brook no interruptions at all. Unfortunately, if you switch into the Offline state manually, you also lose the capability to see the state of people in your Buddy List. That's annoying, since, for instance, I'll often check someone's state in iChat before calling them, but I can't do that without going online. Since iChat can alert others to changes in your status, just connecting can result in an unwelcome chat.

Available and Away are even more problematic. First off, Away doesn't actually mean that you're away from your Mac, and it doesn't block messages or return a pre-defined message to the person attempting to initiate a chat (as an answering machine does when you're away from your phone). And the one way of knowing that someone really is away from her Mac - the Idle state - won't appear if you're in the Away state. So Available ends up meaning that you're available to chat, unless you're actually away from your Mac and in Idle state. And Away means that you might be away from your Mac, but you might also be available to chat. Pfeh!

Altered States -- With some modification, iChat's states could make significantly more sense and more closely match the way many people use instant messaging. Consider the following:

This approach to Available/Busy is key, I think, since it lets you represent your willingness to chat in any way. It lets you be available to anyone if you're happy to chat with anyone who knows your screen name. If you're open to chatting but want to avoid messages from random unknown people, limiting it to your Buddy List makes sense. If you're working hard on a project with a group or an individual, you can ensure that no one else can interrupt you. And if you're concentrating hard and will be rude to anyone who interrupts, you can eliminate all disruptions while still being able to contact others.

The automatic response capability is also important, since it lets you explain why you're not accepting incoming messages, either because you're too busy or because you're actually away from the computer.

Automatic State Changes -- Another aspect of the difficulty of managing states is that it's hard to remember to update iChat whenever your willingness to chat changes. I often get snarky comments from people asking if I'm still eating lunch, for instance, if I forget to change my custom message.

Programs like iChatStatus can change your message to match things like the song iTunes is playing and the outside temperature, but apart from the scripts iChatStatus provides to report on your active application and interoperate with Salling Clicker and a Bluetooth phone to determine your proximity to the computer, most of them don't help you identify your true availability to others. I'd be interested to see software that would attempt to predict (perhaps with a training mode) how busy you were and create custom messages based on your activity level and type.

Other software, such as Parliant's PhoneValet, can tell when you're on the phone and switch your Away state to On the Phone; that's extremely helpful. I've also heard from people who dislike carrying on more than one chat at once; iChat could provide an option to block everyone but the person with whom you're chatting. iChat already does this when you're involved in an audio/video chat, where only one is possible at a time, so it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to extend the concept to text chats.

<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=07428>

Technical Feasibility -- What I don't know, unfortunately, is how feasible these changes are. Some, such as a custom Offline message, a timer for Away, and the automatic response capability would seem relatively easy to add since only iChat is involved. (For instance, other instant messaging clients already offer the automatic response option.) It's possible, however, that Apple might not be able to offer a true Away or an Available state that toggles to Busy for those who aren't in the allowed group, given that iChat operates on the AIM network, which Apple doesn't control. My hope is, however, that whatever extensions Apple was able to make to allow custom messages in the current Available and Away modes could enable at least iChat participants to use these states with one another. It's possible things would break down when communicating with people using other AIM clients, although the automatic response feature might ameliorate any confusion.

Whatever the feasibility, I hope Apple will at least consider these suggestions as providing a useful refinement of iChat's current states without overly complicating the issue. In the meantime, the best we can do is set appropriate custom messages and attempt to honor the availability wishes of others.


The Majestic Alps and the King of Keyboards

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

Back in the days when ADB ruled the land, Apple made one of the best keyboards in the known universe - the Apple Extended Keyboard. It was a large, solid keyboard with a great tactile feel provided by mechanical switches under each key. But good keyboards cost money, and over time Apple traded the desire to provide the best keyboard with the Mac for the desire to spend less money per Mac by skimping on the keyboard. Thanks to moving away from Alps mechanical keyswitches, Apple's keyboards became mushy, and those of us who appreciate a good keyboard muttered darkly and clung to our old keyboards.

But if things were looking bad then, they were to get worse (and I promise not to dwell on the abomination that is the location of the Fn key on PowerBook and iBook keyboards). When Apple introduced the iMac, it included a cute little keyboard with a non-standard layout and a truly awful tactile feel, accompanied by a round mouse that was even worse. Almost everyone hated this keyboard (I'm being kind here, since in fact, I don't know anyone who liked it, but it's a big world out there and Apple sold a lot of iMacs, so I'm sure someone must have liked it). Worse, since the iMac dropped ADB in favor of USB, it became difficult to use an old ADB keyboard, since USB-to-ADB adapters tended to be a bit flaky with keyboards, which need to work in unusual situations such as when the Mac is powered down, sleeping, or crashed.

Having fallen to previously unexplored depths, Apple pulled itself out of the fetid mire with the Apple Pro Keyboard, a full-size keyboard with a standard layout and a decent tactile feel. The Apple Pro Keyboard was so much better than the original iMac keyboard that everyone breathed a sigh of relief and with a few exceptions, forgot that even the Apple Pro Keyboard couldn't hold a candle to the Apple Extended Keyboard.

On a Mission -- I, and the other members of the TidBITS staff, do a lot of typing. Our keyboards are in constant use all day long, as we write and edit articles, create and reply to email, and who knows what else. In fact, the main serious use for keyboards that we don't have is gaming, where fast and accurate response are essential.

Over the last few years, we've tried a number of keyboards. Note that we don't want anything fancy, like split keyboards, or keyboards with lots of extra specialty keys. All we want is a real Macintosh keyboard (with Command and Option keys, rather than Windows and Alt keys) that's basically the same as the Apple Extended Keyboard.

None of the keyboards we've tried, including some from Macally, Kensington, and MicroConnectors, have garnered entirely positive comments, and more problematic, a number of them have failed in some important way (who needs an N key anyway!).

Enter the Tactile Pro -- We're inundated by press releases every day, and it's uncommon for one to generate comment on our internal staff mailing list. However, when we received the initial press release for Matias's Tactile Pro keyboard, which led with "Matias recreates 'the best keyboard Apple ever made'" and went on to promise that the Tactile Pro Keyboard used the same mechanical switch technology as the original Apple Extended Keyboard, there was very nearly an online battle over who would get to try a review unit first. Ever the voice of calm and reason, I settled the question by announcing that I would take first crack at it. To quote Tom Petty, it's good to be king.

<http://tactilepro.com/>

On the face of it, the Tactile Pro Keyboard looks very much like the Apple Pro Keyboard (at least the one that came with my Power Mac G4), with a clear plastic shell backed by white plastic and solid white keys. It's slightly less wide (from Caps Lock to the edge of the numeric keypad) than the Apple Pro Keyboard, but deeper (from the spacebar to the top of the keyboard above the function keys). Like the Apple Pro Keyboard, it sports a hard-wired cable and a pair of USB ports on either side of the top. A pair of feet flip out from the bottom if you prefer your keyboard angled up (so your fingers are higher than your wrists, a position I usually recommend against because of the unnatural hand position it enforces).

The keyboard layout is standard (no Fn or other boutique keys anywhere in sight!) and for the most part very similar to the Apple Pro Keyboard. There are a few differences, though. The top row of keys (Escape, the function keys, and the volume and Eject keys) are somewhat more separated from the rest of the keyboard than on the Apple Pro Keyboard, which is fine, since you don't want to press them accidentally. The Tactile Pro Keyboard also has a power key above the function keys, a welcome addition if you can't easily reach one of the power keys on your Mac or if you don't have Apple monitors (which can power the machine on). Through no fault of Matias's, the power key can only power on older Macs with the necessary hardware support; Apple's current Macs no longer support power on signals via USB (but the power key still brings up the Restart/Sleep/Shut Down dialog when the Mac is turned on).

At a quick glance, the keycaps on the Tactile Pro Keyboard look slightly unusual. When you look more closely, you realize that Matias has done something that would seem obvious except for the fact that no one has done it before: they printed the Option- and Shift-Option-characters on every keycap. It's a brilliant move; no longer do you need a software utility to look up the degree character when you can just glance at the keyboard and see that it's Shift-Option-8. And before this I could never keep the keystrokes straight for single and double curly quotes (hold Option- or Shift-Option and press the bracket keys).

<http://tactilepro.com/viewer/tp_mainpic.html>

On the downside, the Tactile Pro Keyboard's Option keys are slightly smaller than on the Apple Pro Keyboard, making them harder to hit accurately. The Apple Pro Keyboard's Caps Lock key has an unusual keycap that separates it slightly from the A key; the Tactile Pro Keyboard lacks that special keycap, so I find myself accidentally turning Caps Lock on more frequently than before. Speaking of special keys, the volume and Eject keys require a special driver that Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar users must install; a CD-ROM contains the necessary installer.

Where the Tactile Pro Keyboard really shines, though, is in its feel. The keys are decidedly "clickier" and more mechanical, and they have a slightly longer key travel when you push them. The end result is a much less mushy feel than on the Apple Pro Keyboard, but accompanied by much louder typing noises. When I'm typing fast, the Tactile Pro Keyboard almost clatters, and I can say with assurance that I don't mind one bit. The new feel took a little getting used to, but within a day, it felt quite wonderful.

It's entirely possible that some people may not appreciate the extra noise; there's no question that the Tactile Pro Keyboard is much louder than the Apple Pro Keyboard and other keyboards that use rubber membrane switches. I could imagine situations where a quiet keyboard would be important, but for most people, the important aspect of a keyboard is how it feels when you type. I had to switch back to the Apple Pro Keyboard briefly because the first Tactile Pro Keyboard Matias sent me developed a spotty A key after a few weeks of use; Edgar Matias told me that although the Alps keyswitches generally last for many years, if one is going to fail, it will fail almost immediately (which is why Matias offers a 5-year "few questions asked" warranty).

The return to the Apple Pro Keyboard was revealing. My typing accuracy dropped immediately, and my hands ached after a long day. Although I probably would have re-acclimated to it after another week or two, switching back to the replacement Tactile Pro Keyboard when it arrived was a huge relief.

I can't speak for anyone else, but if you consider yourself a keyboard aficionado, or if you've been bothered by the slide in quality for Apple's keyboards, you owe it to yourself to give the Tactile Pro Keyboard a try. It costs $100 plus $20 shipping if you buy direct from Matias; it probably makes more sense to buy from a reseller like TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics, where the price is $80 before shipping.

Protecting the Alps -- There's an interesting little side story that played itself out while I was reviewing the keyboard and communicating back and forth with Edgar Matias. The Tactile Pro Keyboard had been out for only a short while when Alps, the makers of the mechanical keyswitches, announced that they were going to stop making these particular keyswitches altogether.

Most vendors have moved to a lower-cost clone of the keyswitch, but when Edgar tried a sample keyboard they sent him, he thought it felt awful, with a touch so light it was tricky to avoid typing a character if he so much as touched a keycap. Although a light touch might seem like a good thing, it's common to rest your fingers gently on the keycaps when you're not typing, and if the switch doesn't provide a certain amount of resistance, you end up entering characters accidentally. Most users respond to a too-light keyboard by holding their fingers just above the keyboard, but that subconscious action can make you even more tired by the end of the day. Despite this light touch, the sample keyboard was even louder than the Tactile Pro Keyboard. Needless to say, he was shocked that this could happen, both because he feared for the Tactile Pro Keyboard's future and because he didn't want see the famed Alps keyswitch disappear for good. Since Alps would have mothballed the tooling used to build this particular keyswitch, it might never have been produced again, particularly if the tooling deteriorated in the warehouse from lack of use and maintenance.

Luckily, Edgar was able to convince the Alps factory in Taiwan to keep the tooling active for him by committing to buy a million keyswitches. There are 110 keys (and thus presumably keyswitches) on a Tactile Pro Keyboard, so Matias needs to sell just over 9,000 keyboards to use up the promised million keyswitches. That's confidence, but after trying the Tactile Pro Keyboard, I think it's justified. It costs only a bit more than an Apple Pro Keyboard; it includes all the Option- and Shift-Option characters on the keycaps; and at least to my mind, it feels so much better that I type faster, more accurately, and more comfortably. Everyone's hands are different, but if you live and die by your keyboard as I do, Matias's Tactile Pro Keyboard is absolutely worth a try.


Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/29-Mar-04

by TidBITS Staff <editors@tidbits.com>

Replacing DocuComp to compare word processing docs -- DocuComp was a utility for comparing two documents, but now it's available only on Windows. What other document-comparison alternatives are available? (6 messages)

<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tlkthrd=2199>

iChat video chats -- Some Windows AIM users appear in the Buddy List with camera icons, even if they don't own a video camera. (2 messages)

<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tlkthrd=2197>

Digital Photos -- Readers revisit the topic of which online photo developers produce good results from digital originals (and the prices seem to be coming down, too!). (2 messages)

<http://db.tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tlkthrd=2196>


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