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Do you want more from your Web browser? Check out Adam's review of the just-released OmniWeb 5.0, which is overflowing with power user features. Adam also relates lessons learned from testing a soon-to-be-opened wireless network at his local public library, and he looks into why Aladdin Systems has changed its name to Allume Systems. In the news, Apple ships Motion, and we announce a DealBITS drawing for BeLight's label and envelope software Mail Factory.
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Apple Ships Motion, Introduces Production Suite -- After introducing it in April, Apple is now shipping Motion, the company's new motion-graphics application (see "Apple NABs Pro Video Attention" in TidBITS-727). The $300 program creates snazzy effects and titles on top of video, and complement's Adobe's dominant After Effects. In related video news, Apple announced that Motion is now part of an application set it calls Production Suite, which encompasses Final Cut Pro HD, Motion, DVD Studio Pro (which was updated to version 3.0.1 last week), and Soundtrack. The collection sells for $1,300; owners of any version of Final Cut Pro can upgrade to the entire suite for $700. Also noteworthy, Apple released Pro Application Support 2.1, an update for owners of Final Cut Pro, Cinema Tools, Compressor, LiveType, Soundtrack, and DVD Studio Pro. The update improves reliability, updates interface issues, and is required for future updates; it's a free 2.6 MB download. [JLC]
TidBITS Dutch Translation News -- In our continuing push to switch services over to Web Crossing, we moved the TidBITS Dutch translation of TidBITS to a Web Crossing-based list last week. Thanks to the hard work of Sander Lam, Elmar Dueren, Hans van Helvert, and the rest of the volunteer Dutch translation team, the transition went smoothly. We'll be moving the Dutch Web pages over soon too, and I hope to follow that with the lists and pages for our other translations. The Dutch team is also looking for new volunteers who would like to help translate TidBITS; see the pages linked below to learn more about what's involved and how to join. [ACE]
DealBITS Drawing: DLexpo VIP Pass Winners -- Congratulations to Andrew Laurence of uci.edu (who was apparently rewarded at a karmic level for writing the EyeHome review in last week's issue), Andrew Cohen of sandrew.org, Kerry Millerick of pacbell.net, Martin Cohen of acm.org, and Pat Dengler of mac.com, whose entries were chosen randomly in last week's DealBITS drawing and who each received a VIP pass to last weekend's DLexpo. Everyone else who entered received a discount code worth over $100 as well. Thanks to the 60 people who entered, and keep an eye out for future DealBITS drawings! [ACE]
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I hate mailing packages. Along with the extra trip to the post office and the fuss of finding proper packaging materials, there's the label. I've always liked the idea of printing labels rather than writing them out by hand (since my handwriting is lousy, and copying an address from an email message just feels silly). But it seems like too much effort to fire up Now Contact and create a new record (often for someone I know I'll never send anything to again) just to print a single label.
Enter BeLight Software's Mail Factory. You'll remember BeLight as the small Ukrainian company responsible for Business Card Composer, the elegant little application for creating business cards, and Mail Factory definitely follows in the same vein. It lets you create and print labels quickly, either entering data manually or connecting to Apple's Address Book, Microsoft Entourage, Eudora, or Now Contact for the source data. It knows about numerous different pre-defined label formats matching label stock, works with both normal printers and Dymo label printers, and lets you print on partially used sheets of labels. You can even design your own labels using the included clip art. Mail Factory also lets you design and print envelopes, can insert POSTNET bar codes to expedite delivery, and formats addresses according to the postal requirements of over 50 countries (I've always wondered if using the U.S. style caused delivery problems when mailing overseas addresses).
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
Sometimes it's hard to keep track of the players without a scorecard, but the details of some companies that are fixtures in the Macintosh community interest me. Aladdin Systems, founded in 1988 and one of the oldest of Macintosh software vendors, has had a varied corporate history that recently took a few more twists. In 1999, for instance, the privately held Aladdin used a reverse merger with a dormant public company to enable the company's stock to be traded on public stock exchanges. But earlier this year, Aladdin Systems was acquired by IMSI, a PC software developer known for software like TurboCAD, TurboProject, and HiJaak graphics tools. Though now a wholly owned subsidiary of IMSI, Aladdin retained its name and remained a separate entity; other than a cash infusion from the $8 million acquisition, almost nothing changed.
However, in July, Aladdin Systems announced that it was changing its name to Allume Systems, which seemed odd, given the long history of the Aladdin name. The problem turned out to be a trademark lawsuit brought by a company called Aladdin Knowledge Systems, a company I've seen advertising a hardware copy-prevention dongle, presumably to firms making extremely expensive vertical market software (at least I hope that's the market: copy-prevention dongles for normal programs give me hives). Although Aladdin Knowledge Systems has been around since 1985, they first filed a trademark lawsuit against Aladdin Systems in November of 2003, presumably based on the fact that Aladdin Systems had just shipped SpamCatcher, a Windows spam filter that was nominally in the same space as the eSafe service from Aladdin Knowledge Systems.
Aladdin Systems was contesting the lawsuit and believed it had a good case, since Aladdin Knowledge Systems hadn't attempted to protect its trademark for so many years. However, the legal costs of the suit were mounting rapidly, and when IMSI came along, they weren't interested in throwing more money at the lawyers. Hence the settlement, in which Aladdin Systems changed its name to Allume Systems. The aladdinsys.com domain will redirect to the allume.com domain for several years, and ironically, Allume has retained the Aladdin Systems logo, a capital A with Aladdin's lamp as the cross-bar.
All this is mostly by way of explaining why this company called Allume Systems has suddenly appeared, selling StuffIt Deluxe and Spring Cleaning, and all the other software we've become accustomed to seeing from Aladdin. Aladdin has sponsored TidBITS numerous times in the past as part of their support of the Macintosh community, and we're pleased to announce that as of this issue, Allume is once again joining our other sponsors.
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A few days ago I went down to the Tompkins County Public Library with Tonya, Contributing Editor Mark Anbinder, and our technical friends Keith Kubarek (a consultant who helped us decide on a content management system) and Oliver Habicht (an IT director at Cornell University Library) to test their new wireless network. It's not quite public yet, but Michael Salm of Sherpa Technologies, who had installed the network, wanted to have a few people bang on it before the library started the training, publication, and PR tasks necessary before opening it to the public.
Michael had installed a Cisco Aironet access point with an omnidirectional antenna to serve almost the entire public area of the library (it's in a nicely remodeled department store that was occupied by Woolworth's the entire time I was growing up; the public area is a mostly open space on the main floor, as you can see at the photo gallery link below). Initially, I was slightly dubious that we would be able to provide any useful feedback; after all, my experience of wireless networks is that you plug in the access point, set a few options, and it all just works. Indeed, after Tonya and Tristan (who got huge points for spending the entire time drawing and looking at the art in a massive book on naval history) and I walked in, I pulled out my PowerBook, opened it up, and was immediately greeted with a dialog asking me if I wanted to add the library's network to my list of trusted networks. A click or two later and Cornell's weather forecast Web page appeared, telling me that there was a severe thunderstorm watch until 8:00 PM. (It's been one of those summers.) I showed everyone the page, announced, "Our work here is done," and mimed leaving.
Nonetheless, the real testing that ensued proved to be extremely valuable. The library has long allowed patrons to connect their laptops to Ethernet jacks to access the Internet, and Michael has locked that access down to allow only Web and email access. That's not entirely unreasonable - we're talking about a library here, with potentially many people sharing a single pipe to the Internet, so it's smart to restrict high bandwidth uses and things that could cause a liability (peer-to-peer file sharing in particular). Michael's good sense in having us test things was proven quickly, when we determined that FTP wasn't available, that SSL email to Cornell didn't work, and that other Cornell authenticated services couldn't get through the firewall. Michael bustled off to open those ports so Keith could make changes to his Web site via FTP and Mark could check his Cornell email (in the end, Mark was able to check Cornell email via the Web, but Michael is still working on enabling the Cornell-specific services).
As an aside, when the initial discussions about installing a wireless network were underway, there was concern on the part of the library that the wireless network might prove a security risk or other liability, and should perhaps have its access restricted or time of operation limited in some way. When we looked into how the wireless network would tie into the library's wired network, however, we realized it wasn't appreciably different from what was already possible with patrons connecting their laptops to the Ethernet jacks. The public part of the network was separated from the library's intranet, and the firewall served both to reduce the likelihood of most abuses and to log any suspicious activity. It seems highly appropriate that the library, an organization whose mission it is to promote learning and information sharing, ended up with a reasonably open network that doesn't require usernames or more draconian measures.
Next we wandered around the far-flung corners of the library building, testing signal strength. For reasons we still don't understand, Keith's Titanium PowerBook G4 showed much higher numbers for signal strength in MacStumbler (70 to 90) than my 12" PowerBook G4 did (30 to 60), but his copy also reported high noise numbers (55), whereas my copy displayed the noise rating at 0 the entire time. I suspect there's something related to the fact that my PowerBook uses AirPort Extreme (802.11g), whereas Keith's uses AirPort (802.11b). Tonya's white iBook, also using AirPort, showed even higher signal strength numbers than Keith's Titanium PowerBook G4 (not surprisingly - the iBook is a stellar performer when it comes to range), but also reported 55 for noise. I also tried a slightly old version of iStumbler, which reported very similar numbers, making me think they're coming from the AirPort driver.
Amusingly, during the signal strength test, we discovered a couple of other wireless networks, a closed one that we knew was run by another organization that shares the library's office space, and another called "UBWireless" that we were never able to triangulate or identify beyond its name. These days, such overlap of wireless networks is common, so it's always worth checking to make sure channels don't interfere. Whatever UBWireless was, it was using channel 1, and since the Cisco access point had automatically chosen channel 3 (probably before the UBWireless network appeared), there could have been some interference. Luckily, it's trivial to change channels to avoid such conflicts.
After determining that the connectivity to the Cisco access point was fine, we settled down to test throughput. Although we only had six or seven devices, we figured we could artificially load the network to see how it performed under stress. A number of people started playing Apple's QuickTime movie trailers (with the volume down - it is a library!), and I sent Interarchy off to download a huge file from our Xserve, which can normally serve that file to me at over 80K per second on my 1 Mbps long-range wireless connection at home. The download started slowly, and in general, responsiveness to the Internet was not as perky as we would have liked. I tried using the Link Rate tool in Sustainable Softworks IPNetMonitor X to learn more, but since it relied on ICMP pings to monitor round trip time, it couldn't get through the firewall.
That's when I remembered that Interarchy 7 has network monitoring tools as well, so I pulled up its Network Status window, which displays a graph of incoming and outgoing traffic over time. It showed that I was getting only 20K to 30K per second transfers, with the occasional spike up to 192K per second and dips down to under 10K per second. That seemed slow, given that the library has a 2 Mbps wireless connection to the Internet, even though that connection was being shared with all the library's public Internet terminals and the other testers.
We backed off our testing, and determined that it wasn't related to what we were doing, since the problem was still there when only one of us was downloading. Then I plugged my PowerBook into the wired network and tried again. The wired test produced the same result, implying that the problem probably didn't lie with the wireless network at all, but with the 2 Mbps connection to the Internet. Michael was concerned with that result, needless to say, but it was a task for another day, since as far as we could tell, the internal wireless network was working well. At that point, our work really was done, so we closed up the laptops and went off to dinner.
The moral of the story is that independent testing is always important, since it can turn up problems you didn't anticipate, even in seemingly unexpected parts of the system.
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
When Apple released Safari a few years ago, the program was widely hailed for its speed, clean design, and elegant interface. It lacked a few of Internet Explorer's more powerful features, but on the whole Safari was, and is, an excellent Web browser. But although Apple has made some under-the-hood improvements to Safari since its release, relatively little in the interface has changed, leaving plenty of room for the Omni Group to turn their Web browser, OmniWeb, into a Web browsing powerhouse. I've been testing OmniWeb 5.0 for months now, and although I still use Safari for certain tasks, I've become utterly addicted to OmniWeb's power user features. Since OmniWeb 5.0 now uses WebCore, the same Apple low-level framework for rendering Web pages that Safari uses, its speed and rendering capabilities are on par with Safari. So let me tell you where OmniWeb sets itself apart from Safari, and likely from other Web browsers, though short of occasional use of Camino, I haven't spent much time in current versions of Mozilla, Firefox, Opera, iCab, or others.
Windows and Tabs and Workspaces, Oh My! The tabbed interface for browsing has become popular in recent years since it allows the user to open and switch among multiple Web pages without creating a muddle of new windows. However, whereas the standard approach is to use notebook-like tabs at the top of the screen, OmniWeb instead creates thumbnails in a drawer occupying the entire right or left side of the window. You can switch to a more-compact name-only view, but the thumbnails are brilliant, since they act like icons, visually representing the page without forcing you to read and parse the name. OmniWeb's thumbnails are also easily manipulable, so you can double-click one to open it in a window on its own, click a little X next to its name to close it without viewing it, or Control-click it to display a pop-up menu with other commands, such as Reload Tab and Reload All Tabs. You can drag thumbnails around in the list to rearrange them, Option-drag them to make copies, and even drag or Option-drag them into new windows. The size of the drawer determines the size of the thumbnails, and if you have more than fit in the drawer, a scroll bar appears to provide access to the hidden ones. You can, of course, create and switch among tabs using keyboard shortcuts as well.
Omni also added the concept of workspaces, which initially threw me, but which I've since come to adore. A workspace is a collection of one or more OmniWeb windows to Web pages, potentially with multiple tabs, that remembers its state at a user-specified point in time or on an ongoing basis as pages change, tabs are added and removed, and windows open and close. Loading a workspace thus displays the saved state, complete with all the tabs and page content, along with window size and location. For instance, I have a Moderate TidBITS Talk workspace that uses a full-screen window (much larger than I'd normally use) and knows to load the Web Crossing moderation page and the TidBITS home page (from which I copy article URLs). I've also used workspaces when researching Macworld articles, creating a tab for each site I need to visit, and making sure OmniWeb saves the state every time I close the window. That way I can easily go back and check a fact without having to find and load the appropriate page again. Even better, I can save the workspace as a standalone file and send it to my editor so she can easily verify URLs, prices, and other things that would otherwise require copying and pasting URLs.
But you know what the truly wondrous aspect of workspaces is? If you crash (a somewhat common occurrence early in the beta cycle) or quit the browser for any reason (like installing one of Apple's security updates), when you next launch OmniWeb, it will, if you've set your default workspace right, automatically load all of the tabs and windows that were showing before. There have been times I've lost 20 tabs in Safari when quitting, and picking them out of the history is nearly impossible. This feature, glorious though it is, is not without a slight downside. In a few Web applications that save state (but not data) within their URLs, reloading a page after a crash can cause null data to be resubmitted. It's not OmniWeb's fault, since it has no way of knowing what loading a URL can do. (Speaking of crashes, whenever OmniWeb crashes, it can create a crash log to send to the Omni Group via email; I always like applications that report home in obvious ways when they're failing.)
Bookmarks and URLs -- The bookmark features of most Web browsers drive me absolutely nuts. I don't want to spend time pondering whether I should make a bookmark or not, and if so, where I should store it. What I like about OmniWeb 5.0's bookmark capabilities is that although they have all the basic features, I can more or less ignore them. That's because OmniWeb keeps a complete history for as long as I like, indexing the full content of every page I visit and allowing me to search for text in the Web page's content, title, URL, or user-created note. No more do I have to try to remember how to find some site, or comb through Google search results looking for a site I visited recently. To obtain this feature in other Web browsers, you need St. Clair Software's just-updated HistoryHound. In fact, my only irritation with OmniWeb's history feature is that I can't prevent it from seeing uninteresting and constantly refreshed pages, such as Web Crossing's email log (HistoryHound does OmniWeb one better here, letting you exclude such pages from scanning and indexing).
But as much as I like OmniWeb's history, I don't bring it up and search it all that often, simply because I don't have to. That's because OmniWeb, like Internet Explorer, has fabulous URL auto-completion. Type a few characters into the Address field and OmniWeb displays a list of all visited pages that contain those characters in their URLs or titles. For instance, if I want to visit the Web Crossing page where I'd manage the Dutch translation mailing list, I can just type "Dutch" into the Address field and pick the right item in the list. My only complaint is that the list is only as wide as the Address field itself, which sometimes makes differentiating between similar pages difficult. If that's bothersome, you can have the Address field appear as a separate Location bar, which makes it the width of the page.
Other bookmark features that make OmniWeb stand out include the capability to synchronize bookmarks with another Mac via .Mac or a WebDAV server, shared bookmarks with other OmniWeb users on your network (you control which of your bookmarks are shared, of course), and a nice shortcut that opens all the bookmarks in a folder on your Favorites bar when you Command-click the folder, just like in Safari. OmniWeb bookmarks aren't entirely static either: it can check bookmarks to see if they've changed, alerting you via a Dock icon badge to updated sites and showing a bookmark collection of sites that were unreachable. If a bookmark changes to redirect to a new page, OmniWeb updates the bookmark address for you. You can also create News Feed bookmarks to RSS feeds; they also automatically update, and although you can even view RSS entries in the Bookmarks window, it's easier to load the Web pages. Lastly, you can use an optional View Links button on the toolbar to list all the links on a page in a collection in the bookmarks window; it's a fast way to deal with pages that contain many links.
Miscellaneous Merriment -- Oodles of other welcome features abound in OmniWeb. If you have a URL in your clipboard (copied from some other source), you can simply paste it "into" the body of an OmniWeb window to load that page into a new tab. This seems minor, but it saves pressing Command-L or clicking in the Address field first; I use it constantly.
You can create settings for individual sites, and at least some of these settings are automatically remembered for you. For instance, on sites that use too-small text, I increase the size, and from then on, OmniWeb displays those sites, and only those sites, with larger text. Other site-specific preferences include image loading, ad blocking, text encoding, and more.
One of the criticisms of Web forums is that typing into those nasty little text fields is annoying. OmniWeb addresses those complaints by letting you expand any TEXTAREA field into a full-fledged Macintosh text entry window, complete with system-wide spell checking. Along the same lines, you can view the source of any Web page, just like any other Web browser, but if you have the appropriate upload permissions, you can even edit the page. Whether or not you can upload the page, you can still make changes and ask OmniWeb to redisplay the page to see how your changes affect the layout.
The now-canonical Google search field is in the toolbar, of course, but a drop-down menu lets you search other sites like VersionTracker and the Internet Movie Database. You can even add your own search sites to it, so I can now search TidBITS by typing "tb searchterm" into OmniWeb's Address field. OmniWeb also lets you find text or regular expressions on the current page, and if you're in one of OmniWeb's text entry windows, you can also replace the text you've found. One neat little trick: when you're on any page, you can type a few characters from the name of a link to jump directly to that link text; press Return to follow the link.
OmniWeb 5.0 has finally pegged the Downloads window that has bugged me in every other browser for all time. It lists all the downloads within an amount of time you specify, but more important, you can have the window automatically appear when you start a download and disappear if no downloads are active. That's the best combination of feedback and respect for the user's work environment I've seen yet; I'm always closing download windows in other browsers to get them out of my way.
Like some other browsers, OmniWeb has AutoFill, which helps you fill in forms with data that doesn't change, such as your name and address, and AutoComplete, which offers suggestions based on previous entries while you're entering data in any field. Though these features are perfectly functional, I still prefer Safari's approach, which automatically fills form fields whenever it can and which automatically completes field entries without forcing you to pick from a list each time. Safari's behavior is slightly more likely to cause mistakes, whereas OmniWeb's behavior is safer but enough less helpful that I often find myself avoiding it.
You can save data from the Web in a number of interesting ways. A Save Linked menu lets you save images linked from the current page or HTML documents linked from the current page. You can, of course, print a page to PDF using Save As, but if you want a PDF that doesn't have artificially added page breaks, hold down Option and choose Save As PDF from the File menu to get a one-page PDF. And lastly, you can add a Summarize button to the toolbar that uses Apple's Summary service to summarize the current page. Although I've only recently found this option, there are occasions when I skip reading a Web page because I lack the time at that moment; a summary might make it easier for me to decide if it's worth the effort.
Features I haven't tried yet include navigation via speech, ad blocking, AppleScript support (it provides a Script menu for storing scripts), and probably more. One of the things I like about OmniWeb 5.0 is that I'm still learning how to take advantage of its features, rather than constantly wishing it had more. Even after months of testing and hanging out on the OmniWeb beta list, I still learned new things while writing this review. That's in part to finally looking into the online help and PDF manual, which pointed me in the right direction for a lot of features I hadn't previously investigated seriously.
Buying OmniWeb -- One last thing that OmniWeb 5.0 has that isn't common among Web browsers is a price tag. The program costs $30 new ($20 academic) or $10 to upgrade from 4.5 ($7 academic). You can use it for 30 days with the only restriction being that you can't change the initial page that loads on startup to avoid OmniWeb's rather humorous nagging. If you use the Web seriously, OmniWeb is well worth $30. And perhaps even more to the point, the Omni Group deserves support for raising the standard of how a Web browser can go beyond - far beyond - the basics of rendering pretty pages.
by TidBITS Staff <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be much faster. The design of the Web Crossing interface is now a bit closer to what we eventually want, and we've also updated our older TidBITS Talk archive to display HTML-formatted messages better.
Spyware in Mac apps -- Talk of Real Networks' software turns to the tracking options in RealPlayer, and whether they constitute "spyware." (2 messages)
Not On Track with Route 66 -- Jonathan Jackel's review of Route 66 prompts readers to share their experiences and frustrations with the mapping software. (5 messages)
'Alternative' Mac designs -- As we await the unveiling of the G5-based iMac, discussion points to fanciful Mac-inspired designs on the Web. (2 messages)
Comments about Elgato's EyeHome -- Following Andrew Laurence's review of the EyeHome home media device, readers talk about image resolution and compare the EyeHome to TiVo's Home Media Option. (2 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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