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Do you think the Finder could be better? So does Matt Neuburg, and his current solution to the Finder's annoyances is Cocoatech's Path Finder 4, which he reviews this week. Patrick Dennis joins us with detailed look at the combination of the BlackBerry 7100i cell phone/PDA and PocketMac for BlackBerry software, Glenn Fleishman ponders short URL services, and we pass on news of the PowerPC iMac price cut and a server problem that lost some DealBITS entries from last week.
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DealBITS Drawing for browseback Still Open -- As you may or may not have noticed, we had a spot of trouble with our server last week. Much hair was lost, but more important, most DealBITS entries from Monday and Tuesday and early Wednesday morning were also lost. Everything should be working properly again now, so if you entered DealBITS to win one of three copies of SmileOnMyMac's Web history utility browseback and did not receive an email confirmation of your entry, please enter again at the link below. Don't worry about possible duplicates; my system will find and eliminate them. My apologies for the inconvenience; the problem was quite subtle and, annoyingly, I couldn't personally reproduce it, which made troubleshooting more difficult. Wet noodle self-flagellation will now commence. [ACE]
20-inch iMac G5 Drops $200, 17-inch Gone -- Now we know why Apple continues to sell the iMac G5 after debuting the iMac Intel Core Duo model at Macworld Expo last month: to clear out inventory. Apple has stopped selling the 17-inch iMac G5 and dropped the price of its remaining stock of 20-inch iMac G5 models by $200 to $1,500. The Intel-based iMacs sell for $1,300 and $1,700, depending on whether you want the 17-inch or 20-inch model.
Early testing by Macworld shows that for most purposes, the Intel iMac is slightly but noticeably faster for native applications; system boot time and application launches happen much more quickly. The G5 won't become obsolete: universal binaries will be developed for years to come, so if you were on the fence on an iMac or just need a mid-range desktop that runs non-universal software (such as Adobe Photoshop, for example), this might be the time to buy. [GF]
by Matt Neuburg <email@example.com>
The Finder is the application that Mac OS X users love to hate. Take a moment to think of something about the Finder that makes you absolutely furious. It shouldn't take long! Here are some examples:
Why doesn't the Finder say where you are? Why doesn't it report what folder each window or column represents in the larger hierarchy of things? You probably know about Command-clicking on a window's title to see its path; but some people, like my mother, don't - and in any case you still have to do something (the Finder doesn't just show you where you are), plus you can easily get lost in column view because columns have no headings.
When you drag multiple files into a folder, and the Finder asks if you want to replace an existing file, why doesn't it report relative modification dates? When you drag one file into a folder, the Finder tells you whether an existing file with the same name is older or newer. But if you drag multiple files into a folder, it doesn't - it puts up a separate dialog for each existing file, asking whether you want to replace it, but without the relative date information, which is usually crucial to making an intelligent decision about whether to proceed.
I could rattle on and on, and so, no doubt, could you. The Finder is full of unnecessary shortcomings, big and small; if you can't think of a dozen of them immediately, it's probably just because you've deliberately numbed yourself to how bad the Finder is, in order to protect your blood pressure. After all, we all have to use the Finder constantly, every day, so we must simply live with it - mustn't we?
No! Thanks to Path Finder 4, from Cocoatech, you can bypass the Finder in favor of a sensible, rational, gorgeously clean environment for working with files and folders. At every step, in every detail, Path Finder's interface and behavior simply do the Right Thing. Plus, Path Finder provides loads of extra information and power that the Finder lacks; indeed, Path Finder can replace not only the Finder but several other utilities you may already be using to compensate for the Finder's general weeniness.
To describe Path Finder's interface in detail, and to list all that it can do, would make for a huge article. So here are some highlights.
Path Finder lists a folder's contents in the three standard views (icon, list, or column) plus a hierarchical menu, and you can toggle display of invisible files, display of package contents, and "smart" sorting (which groups applications, folders, and files). A folder's contents can also be filtered, so you can view and work with (for example) just JPEGs, or just JPEGs and TIFFs. Multiple folders can be shown in a single window using "tabbed browsing" (as in Safari), and files can be dragged from one tab to another. File information includes Spotlight metadata, and lets you change ownership, permissions (properly, not like the Finder which omits Execute permissions), type/creator, and creation/modification dates; you can even swap the data and resource forks.
A "drop stack" (similar to the NeXT "shelf") lets you drag and drop items from hither and yon to form sets for later processing (copying or moving to elsewhere, burning, compressing, or mailing). You can search with or without Spotlight, through a quick search field or a more elaborate search window. Running processes are listed, and can be sampled or force quit. There's a terminal, a console (for viewing logs), and a hex editor built right in. You can create and manipulate disk images, compress with numerous formats (including StuffIt, which is built in), convert images from one format to another, and even do screen captures.
Path Finder isn't quite perfect. Tabs aren't as easily created as in Safari by Command-double-clicking. Managing all the possible drawers can become awkward. It crashed twice in the first half hour I used it; Cocoatech quickly released a 4.0.1 bug-fix update. And I soon discovered other small bugs, such as a volume's name being incorrectly displayed in a file's Info pane. Cocoatech acknowledges that Path Finder 4's documentation is incomplete, and they're right: the help files are simply inadequate.
Nevertheless, I can't recommend Path Finder strongly enough. It puts the Finder, and Apple Computer, to shame. Coincidentally (or not), Apple has recently posted a job opening for a new Finder Software Engineer to work on the "notorious file browser for Mac OS X." Apple would do well to look at Path Finder, or even hire Steve Gehrman (its developer). In the meantime, Path Finder is the workspace you've always longed for and deserved. So download the 21-day demo and try it, right now. Path Finder 4 requires Tiger, and costs $35 (or $18 to upgrade from an earlier version), a superb value.
by Glenn Fleishman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Verbosity makes for reading that's tedious and takes longer to understand without aiding comprehension. Or, rather: wordy bad, pithy good.
The same is true for URLs (Uniform Resource Locators). Long, complex URLs are the bane of Web links sent via email, since many of the most popular and interesting sites and many common blog management systems create URLs that can't routinely be sent, received, and followed successfully in email without additional effort.
Generally, URLs of less than 70 characters work properly in most email readers. Longer URLs, which tend to break across lines, are often mangled in email by the addition of spaces or returns in the middle of the URL unless the entire URL is enclosed in angle brackets. (Although it's not part of the URL specification, using angle brackets to protect URLs in email and Usenet news has long been recommended by the W3C; TidBITS has been using the technique since 1996.)
But there is another way, albeit one that eliminates the domain and directory information inherent in even a truly ugly URL. Several services can take a long URL and produce a short one, using the redirection that's part of HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) to send users to the current destination.
[As much as we appreciate being able to use short URLs in TidBITS, we intentionally avoid these services - even a hypothetical one that we could design and run ourselves - out of a sense of serving posterity. Many of the URLs that have appeared in TidBITS since we started including them in articles in 1994 are now broken, and in most cases, the resources they pointed at are long gone as well. But because we published the full URLs back then, readers can at least gain a sense of where the URL was supposed to go, and they could potentially use the URLs with the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine to find cached versions of the pages. -Adam]
If it's not the granddaddy of these services, TinyURL.com is at least the most popular. The site's parent, Gilby Productions, claims 220 million hits a month and a history of 13 million converted URLs. It's a simple task to visit the site, paste your URL in the entry field, click Make TinyURL, and copy the result.
There are lots of other short URL makers because it's an incredibly trivial piece of programming to perform this kind of URL mapping. More difficult are the ancillary tasks: keeping these redirections running indefinitely, maintaining a database, allowing updates to the short URL once created (in case the destination changes), and providing click-through statistics. Still, we're not talking about an effort on par with mapping the human genome here, and as a result, all the services I've found are currently free.
Despite the necessary similarity of these services, they do attempt to differentiate themselves from one another. Shorl, for instance, creates a unique URL that you can use to check on clickthroughs. SnipURL allows you to create an account for tracking many shortened URLs. Notlong creates a unique host name or lets you create one (i.e., foob.notlong.com could point to a TidBITS article's URL). Other services include DigBig and Shrinkster.
One of my favorites is LookLeap, created by Sid Steward, a PDF wizard who has done linking and cleaning magic on the electronic versions of several books I've co-authored. Sid's service exposes a little more of the destination by including the domain of the URL you're shortening, thus giving back some of the useful information from the original URL in the shortened lookleap.com version. LookLeap goes a step further, too, offering a point of discussion for a given page, creating a thumbnail and a cache in HTML and PDF form, and providing open statistics for links to given domains.
As you might expect, almost any Internet technology of sufficient popularity has also generated parodies. So if you think using long, complex URLs makes you look sophisticated, feed your puny little URL to GiganticURL.com and, well, don't try to memorize the results unless you're eidetic. I'd link to one, just for fun, but it's not worth increasing the size of this article by 2K for the example.
by Patrick Dennis <email@example.com>
I was hooked on my Palm IIIe from the first week I used it back in April 1999. For me, the PDA was a tremendous tool, but it didn't take much vision to realize that one day someone would develop a device that was both a great PDA and a great mobile phone.
Since then, I have waited, and waited, and waited.
Verizon offered a couple of Palm/phone combinations over the years that seemed poorly executed, so I held off. I was intrigued by the Treo 600 and 650, but several of my colleagues use - and absolutely hate - them. I know only one person who has a Treo and loves it.
Late last year, I read about PocketMac for BlackBerry, which enables syncing between a Mac and any model of BlackBerry device. I had never considered a BlackBerry, though numerous friends swear by them. I disliked the orb-like form factor, and more importantly, my understanding had been that BlackBerries were able to sync only with Windows machines.
After learning about PocketMac for BlackBerry, I started looking at the 7100i, the version offered by Sprint Nextel. In person, the 7100i is smaller than I imagined, only slightly larger than a typical cell phone. The screen is bright and sharp. Impressed, I decided it was time, and pulled the trigger. By re-upping for two more years with Sprint Nextel (which has good coverage in my area) I got a spectacular deal on the phone and a promise that I could return it within 14 days. I went home and immediately downloaded PocketMac for BlackBerry.
PocketMac for BlackBerry -- The most significant question I had about this new phone was: How well would PocketMac's product work? The short answer is just one word: flawlessly. Even weeks into owning the Blackberry, I find that the software does precisely what the folks at PocketMac promise it will do. The longer answer is that the whole point of this exercise was to integrate my phone and PDA in one unit that would sync with my Mac: the BlackBerry functionality was just a bonus. So if PocketMac's software didn't work as advertised, my plan was to return the phone.
The software claims to sync a BlackBerry with Entourage (version 10.1.6 or later), Address Book, Mail, iCal, Now Up-to-Date & Contact, and Daylite. Further, it boasts iSync integration/compatibility, but does not sync with Eudora nor with the Chronos Calendar and Contact applications. I can not vouch for how it works with all of those applications, but my experience with Entourage has been positive. I installed the software and followed the directions for configuring the sync preferences before attaching the BlackBerry. Configuring the preferences was intuitive and user friendly. I connected the BlackBerry to my Mac using the provided standard USB cable, clicked Synchronize, and...it worked, just as advertised. No trouble, no struggle, no problem. The entire process, from download to install to successful sync took well under a half hour. Maybe closer to 15 minutes.
(Note, however, that an incompatibility with the way the new Intel-based iMac handles USB connections means PocketMac for BlackBerry won't currently work on that machine via USB; Bluetooth connections work fine. More information is available at the PocketMac Web site.)
The synchronization options, to my surprise, didn't allow me to set rules to govern how conflicts between data on the handheld and on the Mac were handled. The default option, designed to protect users from data loss, prompts you to decide what to do when one device recognizes that data has been deleted from the other. I think this is the safest way to handle the synchronization process, but some users might want more control. Representatives from PocketMac said they plan to offer enhanced conflict resolution in future versions, but in the meantime an unsupported application called Advanced Prefs is installed in /Library/PocketMacBB. I haven't needed any of those options, as I don't mind being prompted to resolve data conflicts.
The bottom line on the software is that it works as promised, and does so very well. Apparently the BlackBerry folks think so, too: BlackBerry maker Research in Motion has entered into an agreement with PocketMac to include the software with each phone and to enable Mac users to download the software for free from either company's Web site.
BlackBerry 7100i as a Phone -- As I mentioned earlier, the 7100i is the model of the BlackBerry 7100 series offered by Sprint Nextel. Most carriers now offer a version of the 7100, and I'm guessing that these are functionally similar phones tied to a particular carrier and with slightly different shells - though the Nextel phone does have walkie-talkie functionality.
In short, I have owned this phone/PDA for nearly eight weeks now and continue to be thrilled with it. There are a few items I might wish were different, but each is relatively minor. The 7100i is as intuitive, easy to use, and as well thought-through as any electronic device I have ever owned, with the possible exception of my iPod.
The phone's sound quality is very good: I'd give it a 7 out of 10. I previously owned the high-end (at least when I bought it) Motorola i730, and the difference in phone quality between the two is negligible. On the sound volume front, I suspect that if you work in a very noisy environment or drive an exceedingly loud vehicle, you might wish that the volume could go a bit higher. The speaker phone function is good, though I haven't used it much.
I find the reception to be better than that of my i730, and I experience fewer dropped calls than I did with my old phone (very few, but it does happen). I suspect this is more a result of my carrier and location at a particular moment than the phone itself, but there's no way to know.
The PDA is also good. Although it isn't running Palm OS, none of the applications stray far from what a Palm user might expect. The calendar and address book contain no surprises, though scrolling quickly through what could be a long list of contacts is a two-handed process unless you have extraordinary dexterity in your pinky and can wrap it all the way around the phone to hold a button down while you use the scroll wheel with your thumb. You also can type the first few letters of the person's name you are looking for. The to-do list and notes applications also work as expected. The BlackBerry is preloaded with all the usual smart phone software suspects including a Web browser, a Breakout-type game, a calculator, a password keeper, and several other small applications.
I expected those pieces to be well-done, but I also discovered some pleasant surprises. The first seems so logical and simple that it should have been a no-brainer, but is a new idea to me: the phone charges when plugged into any USB port on any computer. No more having to lug around a power adapter (though one does come with the phone, enabling you to plug into a wall outlet). For anyone who is around computers regularly, this is a fantastic development.
BlackBerry 7100i for Email -- The second surprise is the addictive aspect of using the BlackBerry email service. Most people who buy a BlackBerry will probably want to sign up for the BlackBerry email service - though even if you didn't, you'd still have a good PDA/phone combination. The $45 extra per month for the service (above phone service fees) is obviously not inexpensive, and although I feared that having my email always accessible could be dangerous, I signed up.
It turns out I love it more than I might have guessed. While waiting in my car at a long stoplight the other day, I heard that now familiar buzz to alert me that new email had arrived. I saw that it was Adam asking if I'd like to write this review. Later, while waiting for my lunch appointment to show up, I scanned 10 new email messages from clients and answered three that required quick and easy answers. When push comes to shove, I still have the power to choose how accessible I am, but I can be more efficient by answering email easily when I am not in front of my computer. I now understand why these things have been called "CrackBerries," as checking your email constantly is nearly impossible to resist.
If your company doesn't use the BlackBerry Enterprise Server software, you will have to use BlackBerry's Internet Service. This service retrieves email from your mail server and forwards it to your BlackBerry (it doesn't delete the messages on your server after retrieving them, so you will still receive them on your computer later). I'm not sure at what interval it checks, but it seems to be somewhere between every 15 minutes and every half hour. So messages don't always show up instantaneously.
The interaction between your email server and the BlackBerry server is managed through an account on the BlackBerry Internet Service Web site. You can set up filters that guard your BlackBerry from getting any email other than what you have decided to allow, with options to receive email from only a handful of senders or from everyone. You can also set options related to the receipt, filing, storage, and sending of email.
I opted to create my own strategy to control which messages get through to the BlackBerry. I set up a new email address for myself, one I now give out only to friends, family, and clients. Only email sent to this new address gets forwarded to my handheld. My hope is that this new address will not end up on mailing lists, posted anywhere, sold to spammers, or otherwise disseminated, and will thus stay relatively spam free. Naive? Perhaps, but I can hope, and it has worked so far. I'm keeping my spam-ridden old email address, of course, for mailing lists and because I often receive useful email from people who won't know my BlackBerry's address.
Replying to messages entails using the built-in keyboard, which feels like a cross between the QWERTY keyboard and a typical mobile phone's keypad. You have two options for composing text. The clumsy but effective alpha mode spells out every word by hitting each key the appropriate number of times until the desired letter appears. Most users, however, will tend to use the much faster SureType mode, which guesses the intended word as you type, and requires only a single key press for each letter. I rarely have to correct SureType's guesses, other than when entering proper names. After only 15 minutes of use, I found I could type remarkably quickly, and the device's 35,000 word vocabulary is probably sufficient for most day-to-day uses.
The BlackBerry simplifies other tasks, as well, with minimal interaction on your part. For example, let's say you receive an email message that includes a phone number. You scroll (using the scroll wheel on the side of the phone, which also acts as a button) through the message until the cursor gets to the line containing the phone number. The BlackBerry automatically recognizes it as a phone number and highlights it. Press the scroll wheel and a contextual menu appears containing the option to call the highlighted number. Pressing the scroll wheel again dials the number. The same is true of an email address, allowing you to select or save the address quickly, or to compose a message to that address.
You can use the device's other functions while you're talking on the phone without disrupting the call, something that many cell phones with bare-bones contact management features handle poorly.
A Few Squashed Berries -- I've encountered relatively few downsides, but they're worth mentioning.
First, the BlackBerry is still, at its core, a device made to connect to a Windows PC. As good as PocketMac for BlackBerry is, it's still essentially a workaround. The PC-based desktop software that RIM provides offers features and functionality still unavailable on the Mac. For example, you can use RIM's PC software to install new software on your BlackBerry, much like adding a new application to a Palm device. However, you can work around this by downloading many BlackBerry applications straight to your device from the developers' sites, as long you're connecting to them using the BlackBerry itself. (BlackBerrycool.com is a great resource for finding new software.) However, if you only have a Mac available, reinstalling software from the BlackBerry's CD could be an issue.
On a practical usage level, I am uncertain about the phone's battery life. It easily lasts for one day of heavy use, and sometimes for two. But I am getting into the habit of charging it every night because I've had it go dead late in the second of two days of regular use. The good news on the battery conservation front is that phone senses a magnetic strip in its holster and shuts off its display automatically whenever it is inserted into the holster. The holster is otherwise lame, unable to rotate or swivel. I expected better.
My most significant concern reflects my paranoia about the security of my personal information. When you download a third-party application, you can set permissions that include the capability to allow or deny that application to (a) interact with other programs on the BlackBerry; (b) gain access to personal data; and (c) transmit information. I understand that certain applications need to transmit data to work properly: GPS software that uses the 7100i's built-in GPS support, for example, needs to transmit its location (other models of the 7100 lack GPS support). That said, users should be careful when downloading third-party software and learn what each set of permissions actually does.
The BlackBerry does have a built-in firewall that is designed, according to the manual, "to prevent...programs from transmitting data without the user's knowledge." It goes on to say that when a third party program attempts to transmit data and the firewall is enabled, a dialog will appear asking you whether or not you would like to allow that connection. This is all the manual says about the firewall - two sentences. The good news is that its default options seem to be set to protect you from unwittingly transmitting data, and the permissions enable you to prevent third party apps that wouldn't need access to your private data from accessing it.
The Courts and Final Thoughts -- Like many other BlackBerry users, I'm interested in the long-running intellectual property lawsuit between RIM and NTP Inc., the firm which claims patents on technology RIM uses for its wireless services. RIM has recently lost a couple of big court battles, while NTP is losing ground at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In late January, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, so now a district court will consider a possible injunction against RIM on 24-Feb-06. If the injunction is enforced, RIM may be forced to shut down BlackBerry service in the United States.
The company claims to have a software workaround to keep services running, but it's not known at this time if an update would have to be installed to indivdual BlackkBerry devices, and, if so, whether that will be possible from Macs, or only from Windows PCs. If you're thinking about using the BlackBerry email service and don't have access to a Windows PC, the next few weeks may be very significant. I personally would be shocked if the case were not settled out of court - there is too much money at stake and too many business people and politicians who are committed to their BlackBerry devices.
With all this in mind, I will say this about the 7100i/PocketMac for BlackBerry combination: I have waited years for an elegant combination of a phone and a PDA. The 7100i does not feel like a good phone with a lousy PDA tacked on, nor does it feel like a nice PDA with a mediocre phone tacked on. Each is designed and integrated well, and when you add the BlackBerry email service to the mix, I can say only this: it's about time!
[Patrick Dennis is the President and Creative Director of Alliant Studios, a brand strategy and communication design firm in Northern Virginia. He has been a Mac user since 1986, and has enough old Macs in his home to drive his wife to suggest he either "toss them or open a museum."]
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"Take Control of Buying a Mac" Updated to Cover Intel Macs -- At Macworld Expo in San Francisco last month, Steve Jobs surprised everyone who was considering a new Macintosh purchase by announcing the release of the first Intel-based Macs: the iMac and the MacBook Pro. Until then, most people thought the transition would happen more slowly, but now it looks as though the entire Macintosh product line will have Intel CPUs by the end of 2006.
What does that do to your plans for buying a new Mac this year? For many people, it throws a monkey wrench into the works, since it's impossible to know exactly when Apple plans to release more Intel-based Macs and if those new Macs will have annoying quirks. Plus, there's a performance hit when running existing PowerPC-only applications with the Rosetta translation technology; it makes no sense to switch to Intel now if you need maximum performance from software that hasn't yet been released in universal binary form. But at the same time, the raw speed of the Intel-based iMac with universal binary code is very good, and it's now clear that we'll see new PowerPC-based Macs for only so much longer. What to do? Take a step back, breathe deeply, and pick up a copy of my just-updated "Take Control of Buying a Mac." There's an old saying that if you give a man a fish, you have fed him for today, whereas if you teach a man to fish, you have fed him for a lifetime. That's my goal with "Take Control of Buying a Mac" - neither I nor anyone else outside Steve Jobs's office can tell you exactly what Apple will release next, but you can use the historical trends and release schedules outlined in the ebook to make an informed guess about what will happen next. The ebook also helps you think through the decisions about which Mac will best meet your needs, whether it's a PowerPC- or Intel-based Mac, laptop or desktop, PowerBook or iBook. So if the new Intel-based Macs have you confused about what to buy next, eliminate your confusion with "Take Control of Buying a Mac."
by TidBITS Staff <email@example.com>
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.
Photo Printing Services for Business Use -- Where do you turn if you need large batches of digital photos printed on a quick turnaround? (6 messages)
Tools We Use: DropCopy -- Following Matt Neuburg's article, readers suggest other programs that do the same type of network file sharing offered by DropCopy. (6 messages)
iPhoto Slideshow to QuickTime -- Full-screen playback of video content seems to be available only to owners of QuickTime Pro - unless you use a one-line AppleScript command, that is. (3 messages)
Managing Simple Mailing Lists -- Readers recommend several options for someone who wants to run a simple mailing list. (19 messages)
Disney/Pixar Merger -- The merger of Disney and Pixar provokes additional thoughts about what the deal means, and what Steve Jobs's new role on Disney's board of directors might offer. (1 message)
Traveling in Europe in a Van with a PowerBook -- An upcoming adventure brings up practical questions about power supplies, Internet access, and where to park the van. (9 message)
PowerPC/Intel boot drive conflicts -- A reader wants to boot his Mac using an iPod, but which models will work successfully with which Macs? (6 messages)
10.3 and 10.4 on different partitions -- Advice for running both versions of Mac OS X on the same computer. (10 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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