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If you've just purchased a new Intel-powered iMac, be aware that you may not be able to boot it from an external drive; Jonathan Rentzsch explains why. Also in this issue, Matt Neuburg reviews DropCopy and the new information manager Yojimbo from Bare Bones Software, we note a new repair program for 15-inch PowerBook G4s, and Geoff Duncan looks at Disney's acquisition of Pixar and what it might mean for the Mac community. Win a copy of SmileOnMyMac's browseback in DealBITS this week!
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PowerBook Repair Extension Targets RAM Problems -- Apple recently announced the PowerBook G4 (15-inch 1.67/1.5GHz) Memory Slot Repair Extension Program (yes, that's the full title). The program addresses an issue that many PowerBook G4 owners have been experiencing where the lower memory slot would stop working. PowerBook G4 models manufactured between January 2005 and April 2005 are affected (serial numbers W8503xxxxxx through W8518xxxxxx); Apple will replace the memory slot and extend the warranty covering the repairs for two years. More specific information can be found at Apple's Web page about the program. [JLC]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
Google is great, but it won't help you find information on just those Web pages you've viewed. For that, you need a utility on your Mac, such as SmileOnMyMac's recently released browseback. Unlike other Web history utilities, browseback presents the pages you've visited as chronologically stacked decks of card-like thumbnails, making it easy to, well, browse back through your Web travels. You can also perform full-text searches to limit the view to just those pages that match, and once you've found the page in question, you can view it in PDF as it was when you visited it, go to it in your browser again, save it to PDF, print it, or send it to someone via email. browseback is both fun and useful (Macworld gave it a Best of Show Award at Macworld Expo San Francisco earlier this month), and it's well worth a try. It's a 2.6 MB download, and there's a universal binary version available for those folks with new Intel-based iMacs.
by Geoff Duncan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Walt Disney Company announced last week that it will be acquiring animation house Pixar in a $7.4 billion all-stock transaction (a nice return on Steve Jobs's original $10 million investment when he purchased Pixar from filmmaker George Lucas in 1986). The deal has been approved by the boards of both companies, and is expected to be completed by mid-2006. Pixar President Ed Catmull will serve as the President of the new Pixar and Disney animation studios, and John Lasseter (considered by many to be the crown jewel of Pixar) will serve as Chief Creative Officer of the studios, as well as Principal Creative Advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering, where he'll contribute to Disney theme park attractions.
And what of Pixar's iconic CEO Steve Jobs, also CEO of Apple Computer and in control of about half of Pixar's stock? He'll be joining Disney's Board of Directors as one of three non-independent members and, overnight, become Disney's largest shareholder, owning roughly 6.5 percent of Disney's stock.
Pixar has developed several successful animated films distributed by Disney under a long-term deal, including Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, with total earnings from the films estimated near $3.2 billion. However, friction between Jobs and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner led Jobs to walk away from the original Disney distribution deal when it concludes this year with the release of Cars. Jobs apparently gets along well with Disney's current CEO Robert Iger and plans to spend a whole lot more time with him.
The Disney acquisition brings Pixar's talent and unique culture into the Disney fold, and enables the House of Mouse to further leverage Pixar characters, stories, and creations through its many media and merchandising channels. For many Pixar employees, the deal may represent a bit of a dream come true: many of the storytelling and production values of classic Disney animated films initially inspired Pixar. However, the deal may complicate life for Steve Jobs's other day job at Apple Computer, where, as a member of Disney's board, he may face additional hurdles convincing other video content providers (Time Warner, NBC/Universal, CBS, etc.) to put their content up for sale on Apple's iTunes Music Store.
At first glance, the merger might seem eerily reminiscent of Apple's acquisition of Jobs's NeXT, Inc., several months after which Jobs ousted Apple CEO Gil Amelio and took over Apple's troubled reins in 1997. Indeed, with Pixar's upper management being placed in charge of the combined Pixar and Disney animation studios, it might be easy to see this acquisition as a reverse takeover for Pixar, if not for Jobs personally. But the situation is significantly different. For one thing, Jobs didn't found Disney, so it's hard to see him having the same passion for Disney that he does for Apple. Further, despite a recent shareholder revolt led by Roy Disney against former CEO Michael Eisner, Disney is much more than its animation studios. In total, Disney garnered nearly $32 billion in revenue during 2005 from businesses including its own cable television channels, the ABC broadcast television network, half a dozen music labels, half a dozen more movie studios, plus theatrical productions, its world-famous theme parks, and - of course - vast merchandising. That said, none of this means Jobs won't have an impact: he's always been out to change the world, and with control of Apple and a board position at Disney, he's better placed to do so than ever before.
by Jonathan Rentzsch <email@example.com>
When I received my new Intel-based iMac, I attempted to install Mac OS X on an external FireWire hard drive. Imagine my surprise when I hit a brick wall attempting this formerly simple task. While the Intel-based Macs are mostly compatible with older Macs, they change the Mac boot process in fundamental (and incompatible) ways.
The Intel-based Macs are the first Macs to use Intel's Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI). Originally intended to replace the PC's aging and unloved Basic Input Output System (BIOS), EFI has found its way into the new Macs, taking over for Open Firmware in PowerPC-based Macs.
Tagging along with EFI is a new partition scheme: GUID Partition Table (GPT); GUID itself is an acronym, expanding to Globally Unique Identifier. GUIDs are locally generated, world-unique random numbers, which make them handy for uniquely identifying all kinds of things without a centralized organization or database. GUIDs are a great way to identify hard disk partitions, enabling the operating system to track volumes even if the device interface changes (as would happen if you ripped your old hard drive out of your Mac and tossed it into a FireWire enclosure).
GPT replaces Apple Partition Map (APM) as the boot partition scheme for Intel-based Macs. And therein lies the rub. Intel-based Macs can't boot from older APM drives, and PowerPC-based Macs can't boot from newer GPT drives. This appears to be a permanent situation - each scheme makes incompatible assumptions about the layout of physical block 1 on the disk. While GPT was designed to be compatible with Master Block Record (MBR, the PC's old partition scheme), it doesn't play nicely with APM.
Even if you could somehow mesh the two schemes, the sad fact is that Mac OS X 10.4.4's double life has not been reconciled to the point where one copy of 10.4.4 will boot both PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs. You can see the evidence of this when you select About This Mac on both systems and click the version number. On PowerPC-based Macs, it reads "Build 8G32", while on Intel-based Macs it reads "8G1165". Eventually Apple will reconcile Mac OS X to one universal build for both systems, but we're not there today.
The new partition scheme affects booting off external drives and at least three Mac OS X programs (in a total of four different ways). Unfortunately, the net impact is a worse user experience.
Mac OS X Installer -- On Intel-based Macs, the Mac OS X Installer issues an install-blocking error if you attempt to install on a APM drive: "You cannot install Mac OS X on this volume. Mac OS X cannot start up from this volume."
While it's nice that Apple upgraded Installer to be aware of the scheme incompatibility, the error message fails to convey why Mac OS X cannot boot from the selected drive. I sympathize with the desire to shield the user from partition scheme complexities, but this error message is simply wrong. Mac OS X can start from an APM drive - only Mac OS X on Intel cannot. A better error message would be: "You cannot install Mac OS X on this volume. Mac OS X on Intel startup requires GUID Partition Scheme."
In order to convince the Installer to allow installation onto your external drive, you must use Disk Utility to repartition the drive using GPT. Unfortunately, Disk Utility is one of the programs whose interface suffers in the face of the new additional partition scheme.
Disk Utility -- Starting with the version of Disk Utility that shipped with Mac OS X 10.4.3 (confusingly, version 10.5.3 (198.5)), a critical yet nondescript Options button was added to the Partition tab. This shy button appears only when you've selected an external drive. Clicking it reveals a sheet that enables you to select the partition scheme prior to partitioning the selected drive. While the sheet mentions why you'd want to use the PC Partition Scheme (MBR), it remains mute on the need of selecting APM for booting PowerPC-based Macs and GPT for booting Intel-based Macs. Even Disk Utility's Help documentation fails to explain why you'd want to choose one over another. Here we have a setting that's critical to enable booting Intel-based Macs off external drives. When visible at all, it's buried - sans documentation - in a pop-up menu, in a sheet, invoked by a generic button, inside a tab view. It doesn't get any more obscure than that.
Disk Utility's Erase tab lacks any mention of the partition scheme. Arguably this is beyond the tab's scope - the Erase tab is more concerned with erasing what's already there than partitioning drives. But this view doesn't hold, given that you can easily repartition a drive in the Erase tab: just select an existing drive with multiple partitions and click the Erase button. Disk Utility happily repartitions the entire drive into one large partition - always using the APM scheme, or always unbootable on an Intel-based Mac. Ideally Erase would ask the user for the partition scheme, defaulting to the only bootable scheme for the current machine.
Startup Disk -- This preference pane fails in different ways depending on whether it's run on a PowerPC-based Mac or an Intel-based Mac. Try plugging a GPT drive into a PowerPC-based Mac. Startup Disk allows you to select the disk and goes so far as to let you see the Restart button. However, when you actually click Restart, the process then fails with a beep. If you read your console.log file (using the Console application in your Utilities folder), you'll see the "bless" command (which Startup Disk runs behind the scenes) has failed, complaining it could not determine the partition of the selected GPT drive.
The user experience is slightly better when you plug an APM drive into an Intel-based Mac: APM drives are filtered out and don't show up at all in the list of boot drives in Startup Disk.
Neither experience is good. Startup Disk should be reworked into a vertical list of all partitions (similar to Mac OS 9.2's Startup Disk Control Panel). Boot-incompatible drives should still be listed, but dimmed out and made unavailable for startup selection. A concise note beside each partition would correctly explain why it cannot be selected for startup.
No Universal Boot Drive -- An important point to keep in mind is that all this complexity can be ignored for non-boot drives. If you just have a drive with data on it, you can use it inside or outside both PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs without any issues.
If you have an existing boot drive - either internal or external - that was used with a PowerPC-based Mac, you'll need to repartition it (thereby erasing all of its data) in order to use it to boot an Intel-based Mac. The same goes for the other direction (Intel-based Mac to PowerPC-based Mac).
Currently, there is no method to enable one external drive to boot both PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs. Given the fundamental block 1 incompatibility between these two partition schemes, this situation may be permanent.
The only possibility I see is hand-crafting a hybrid partition scheme that empirically boots both kinds of Macs. I say "empirically," since it may involve crafting a scheme that's invalid by both definitions of APM and GPT, but works anyway due implementation details of how particular Macs boot. For example, APM demands that physical block 1 begins with "PM," while GPT demands "EFI PART". Depending on the how stringent the checks are at boot time, it may be possible to get a PowerPC-based Mac to start executing disk-based code before ensuring the validity of block 1's PM prefix. That low-level code could quickly "fix-up" the erstwhile GPT scheme into an APM scheme, allowing booting to proceed normally.
That said, while perhaps theoretically possible, I'd file such a technique under black-magic rocket-science and would never use it myself. My data is just too precious to risk in such a way.
Gradually Progressing Technology -- The Intel-based Macs are out of the gate, and of course there will be stumbling blocks with new machines with new architectures. While the initial program versions haven't fared well in the face of a new partition scheme, at least Installer does stop you before installing Mac OS X on a drive whose partition scheme makes it unbootable. That's a 20- to 40- minute misstep averted thanks to a commendable up-front check.
[Jonathan "Wolf" Rentzsch is an indie Mac contract programmer around Northwest Illinois.]
by Matt Neuburg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I've recently discovered DropCopy, from 10base-t Interactive. This little utility's "window" is a small translucent dark spot, rather like a hole, that sits behind all other applications (and behind your desktop Finder icons). Drag a file or folder onto this hole, and a menu appears next to it, listing the names of any other computers on your local network that are also running DropCopy. Continue dragging onto an item of that menu, and the file or folder is copied to that computer.
You could use Personal File Sharing to accomplish the same thing, of course, but DropCopy feels far more lightweight: you don't need to turn File Sharing on, you don't need a username and password, you don't need to log on or open any remote Finder windows, you don't need to worry about permissions. Instead, DropCopy uses Bonjour (formerly known as Rendezvous) for auto-discovery and data transfer. You could use iChat, but you'd need to arrange multiple screen names to avoid the "multiple logins" problem, and you'd have to be at both computers at once (one to send the file and the other to accept it). With DropCopy, you just send a file into the hole and it's on its way. For just popping an occasional Finder item over to another computer, DropCopy is simply perfect.
DropCopy also lets you post a text message dialog to another computer, and you can even fetch the contents of another computer's clipboard. (Back in the old Mac OS 8.6 days, I wrote some gruesome AppleScript tools to accomplish that.) If you've got more than one computer on your local network, even if there's just one human user, you'll probably find DropCopy a huge time-saver. The interface is delightful (I love the animation as the hole darkens and lightens while a file passes through it), and the price (free!) is right.
by Matt Neuburg <email@example.com>
The latest entry in the ever-growing roster of information organizers comes from Bare Bones Software, maker of such programs as Mailsmith and BBEdit (and its freeware little brother, TextWrangler). Yojimbo, whose evocative name means roughly "bodyguard for hire" in Japanese (as in the classic Kurosawa film), is distinguished by its ease of use and the way it supplies structure to certain types of data.
Yojimbo's approach to maintaining information is simple. You have a single database of items, called the Library. An item can be text (possibly styled, and possibly including images), a URL (called a "bookmark"), an archive (either a Web Archive of the sort that Safari now knows how to save, or a PDF), a serial number, or a password. (Arbitrary files, such as images or Excel documents, or aliases to such files, cannot be stored as items in Yojimbo.) A particularly nice touch is that you can create a PDF and save it into Yojimbo in a single move, using the Save PDF in Yojimbo command in the PDF pop-up menu of any application's Print dialog. (You might use this feature, for instance, to store copies of receipt pages from Web orders.) Any item can be encrypted, and to enable this, you must assign the library itself a password; password items are always encrypted. A preference lets you decide whether you want to be prompted for your password every time you decrypt an item to read it.
You don't have to work directly in Yojimbo's window to throw items into it. A system-wide hotkey summons the Quick Input Panel, in which the current clipboard contents are turned into an item and where you have an opportunity to determine what kind of item it is and assign a title. There is also a drawer at the edge of the screen (the Drop Dock), into which you can drop items. Finally, you can drop text and PDF files (one at a time, or in batches) on Yojimbo's Dock icon to import them. Unfortunately, there's no way to import a tab-delimited text file of passwords or serial numbers into individual password and serial number items, making it difficult to migrate existing collections of data from other applications into Yojimbo. And Yojimbo isn't scriptable with AppleScript, so the best way to transfer such existing data to Yojimbo may be organically, as you use the information.
In keeping with its goal of direct simplicity, Yojimbo supplies only a modicum of organization. You can flag an item, or assign it a label (a color). You can create "collections" (like iTunes playlists or iPhoto albums) and assign an item to one or more of them. There are also some built-in "smart collections" which present categories of items, such as all text items or all flagged items. And a search field lets you find items based on their titles, contents, or comments, instantly. (But you cannot nest collections, create your own smart collections, or save a search.)
In situations where it makes sense (bookmarks, serial numbers, and passwords), Yojimbo provides a set of fields to hold the different pieces of data in the item. So, for example, a bookmark has a name field, a location field, and a comments field; a serial number has a name, the serial number, and four further fields. This is a good use of structure where it makes sense, without imposing it on the text and archive item types that don't need it. However, you can't define your own fields for custom types of information. If this became possible in a future version, you could use Yojimbo to store (for example) recipe references, with fields for name, cookbook name, page number, and so on. I currently use iData 2 as a lightweight flat-file database for this sort of thing, but surely the point of an information organizer should be that you can keep any kind of information in it. As so often, I'm reminded with nostalgia of the wonderful WebArranger, which permitted you to define your own item types, each with its own set of fields.
You would expect from the thoughtful and accomplished folks at Bare Bones a certain clarity and slickness of interface, as well as a showpiece that takes advantage of the brightest and best among system technologies. With Yojimbo, that's just what you get. Yojimbo is a Tiger-only application because it relies on the latest Mac OS X advances. For instance, it's a Core Data application, so that your items are kept easily and automatically in a SQLite database. Yojimbo also makes all non-encrypted items individually available to system-wide Spotlight searches, by representing each one as a stub in your Caches folder. (Whether you regard this as a felicitous choice depends upon your point of view. I don't want more matches in my Spotlight searches; I want fewer!) And if you have a .Mac account, Yojimbo can use the .Mac SDK to synchronize your Yojimbo data between machines, so you can retrieve your passwords and serial numbers while using your iBook on the road.
Bare Bones's Yojimbo Web page asserts that the program has "no learning curve"; and this, allowing for the usual pedantic disagreements over what the phrase "learning curve" means, is absolutely true. Download it and run it; in less than a minute, you will know exactly how to put data into it and find what you've put in. Much as I appreciate the effort that Bare Bones has put into Yojimbo, though, it's not a particularly ambitious application and may not compel people to switch to it from other programs that offer roughly similar features. Nevertheless, anyone who has hesitated to try any information organizer because they all seem overly complex and confusing might well be attracted to Yojimbo's direct simplicity and should certainly give it a try.
Yojimbo requires Mac OS X 10.4.3 or later; it costs $40 for an individual license that may be used by one user on multiple machines, $70 for up to five users with multiple machines, or $30 for educational users with a single machine. The demo version expires after 30 days.
by TidBITS Staff <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The first link for each thread description points to the traditional TidBITS Talk interface; the second link points to the same discussion on our Web Crossing server, which provides a different look and which may be faster.
Turbo Tax problems -- Now that tax season has started in the United States, readers revive this thread comparing experiences with Intuit's tax-preparation software. (7 messages)
CCTV software for Macs -- A reader looks for Mac software that can read CCTV output, and discovers an inexpensive way to make panoramas! (3 messages)
Automated/batch lookup of longitude/latitude for city lists? Several methods of determining a city's longitude and latitude are available. (5 messages)
DVD Ripping Question -- Readers look at the many ways of ripping unprotected DVD content to one's hard drive for a variety of uses. (14 messages)
Converting AOL.ART compressed files -- Do you have lots of images saved from your days of using AOL? They're most likely compressed in a proprietary format, which can be accessed using a Windows program. (2 messages)
Referencing Photos in iPhoto 6 -- iPhoto 6 no longer requires that it copy your photos to its own directory. (1 message)
Tech support for ThinkFree Office -- A reader warns that one low-cost alternative to Microsoft Office offers almost nonexistent technical support. (1 message)
Switching from Entourage to Mail? Advice for making a mostly clean transition from these two email programs. (3 messages)
Questions about Sonos Digital Music System -- Andrew Laurence answers queries following his review of the Sonos Digital Music System. (1 message)
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