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It's become the holy grail of modern software: a good Web design program that anyone can use. Is Apple's iWeb the answer? Steve Sande, author of "Take Control of iWeb" looks at iWeb, RapidWeaver, and Sandvox. Also in this issue, Jeff Carlson revisits his experience on safari (the adventure, not the browser) with the Canon PowerShot S2 IS digital camera, and we note the open voting in the MacTech 25 most influential list, the release of Yojimbo 1.2, and a working-spouse edition of MacNotables.
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MacTech 25 Most Influential Survey -- MacTech Magazine has opened the voting for the MacTech 25, a community-chosen list of the 25 most influential people in the Macintosh technical universe. MacTech has designed it to "recognize the technical contributions of developers, writers, bloggers, problem-solvers, and personalities to the Macintosh community," excluding only Apple employees and MacTech staff and columnists (some of whom would likely do well otherwise). Voting in the MacTech 25 is open to anyone, through 15-Jun-06. We would of course appreciate votes for our publisher, Adam Engst (who has ranked in the top five of the MDJ Power 25 every year, behind only Apple employees), along with other TidBITS staff members, and if we do well, we promise to use the vast power that will undoubtedly accrue to the winners only for good. But we really hope there isn't a second-round swimsuit competition.
Speaking of MacTech, which a couple of years ago morphed from a programmer's journal to a more general technical Mac magazine, we notice that if you're interested in subscribing, Microsoft's Mac Business Unit (which has been working with MacTech on articles about integrating Macs into Windows-centered networks and similar kinds of topics) is sponsoring a limited number of six-month "free" subscriptions to MacTech to those that qualify ("free" because there's still a $10 postage and handling fee to make sure people really want the magazine, which would normally cost over $50 on the newsstand). The deal requires filling out a short survey and is available only to those in the United States and Canada (though there are other deals for more far-flung readers). [JLC]
Adam & Tonya Discuss Working Together on MacNotables -- In the most recent episode of our group MacNotables podcast, we did something a little different. Since only Tonya and I were on the line to talk with Chuck Joiner, we ended up discussing what it's like to work with one's spouse in the Mac industry and how we divvy up the various tasks involved with running TidBITS and Take Control. For instance, Tonya takes care of the financial end of things, whereas I'm the network administrator. Since we hadn't prepared for the topic, it ended up being an extremely unusual and far-ranging conversation. We frequently receive comments from people who are surprised we can work together, or who can't imagine what it would be like to work with a spouse, but for us, it's just how our lives work. Give it a listen! [ACE]
DealBITS Drawing: TextExpander Winners -- Congratulations to Raymond Cheydleur of mac.com, Mac Carter of iinet.com, Ken Marcus of mac.com, Hugh Lester of mac.com, and David Steffens of speakeasy.net, whose entries were chosen randomly in last week's DealBITS drawing and who each received a copy of SmileOnMyMac's TextExpander, worth $29.95. Everyone who entered the drawing also received a $10 discount off the purchase of TextExpander. Thanks to the 765 people who entered, and keep an eye out for future DealBITS drawings! [ACE]
by Steve Sande <email@example.com>
The field of Web page editors continues to be an odd collection of top-heavy applications. Dreamweaver and GoLive are the professional giants on the Mac, though BBEdit and other text editors are still used extensively to hand-code HTML. But the middle ground has always been sparse: what tool is best for an average person who doesn't want the complication posed by most Web design applications?
Apple, which prides itself on making products for the rest of us, is attempting to cover that ground with iWeb, part of the iLife '06 suite. When it was introduced at the 2006 Macworld Expo, I hit the show floor and gave this new Web design program a cursory test drive. Even with just a few minutes of use, I quickly realized that it was going to make Web site development simple.
That exposure spurred me to dive into the program, which led to me writing the just-released "Take Control of iWeb: iLife '06 Edition," during which I found a lot of power in iWeb - as well as a few shortcomings for which I figured out workarounds.
The May release of iWeb 1.1 addressed some of these deficiencies, particularly in the area of adding comments and searches to blogs and podcasts that are published on .Mac. A second update in May fixed the bugs introduced in iWeb 1.1 and the new 1.1.1 version seems to have resolved some publishing issues.
Of course, Apple isn't the only player here, so in this article I'll also provide an overview of the basic features, functionality, and audiences of Realmac Software's RapidWeaver and Karelia Software's recently released Sandvox. All three applications are universal binaries, so owners of Intel-based Macs can enjoy the benefit of speed. Regardless of which tool you use, you'll be able to publish a Web site quickly and with relatively little pain.
iWeb 1.1.1 -- iWeb's primary audience is .Mac users who have never published a Web site before. As such, it builds upon 18 professionally designed templates; each template includes seven page types to provide a variety of customizable pages. Some of the templates leave much to be desired (Doodle, for example), while others such as Gazette are beautiful and functional. Once you've picked a template, you can add Welcome, About Me, Blog, Podcast (both audio and video), Photo, Movies, or Blank pages that use the design elements of the template. Several third-party companies are now creating and selling templates for iWeb, so expect this to become a new cottage industry.
When you're putting together a Web page in iWeb, you're working with page elements in a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) environment. You'll see little difference between the appearance of your page when creating it in iWeb and when it has been published to .Mac or other Web server. One complaint from professional Web designers is that iWeb produces fairly dirty and non-standard HTML and CSS code, but I haven't found too many cases where pages designed in iWeb aren't portrayed accurately in multiple browsers on different platforms.
In terms of flexibility of placing page elements such as text, photos, and shapes onto Web pages, iWeb has no peer. Adding and moving elements is a breeze, and you can layer them to achieve unique effects that are impossible in the other programs discussed in this article.
Capitalizing on the seamless integration with the rest of iLife '06, iWeb makes it simple to build a page. Want to add a photo? Just drag one from your iPhoto library and drop it onto an iWeb placeholder. Perhaps you want your friends to see your favorite iTunes playlist on the site: drag the playlist icon from the iWeb Media Browser to the location where you want to have the list, and iWeb creates a list of the song titles along with links to the appropriate song snippets in the iTunes Music Store.
When the time comes to share the page with the rest of the world, members of Apple's .Mac service can publish their newly created Web sites with a single click and get some server-side features (page hit counter, Java-based slideshows, blog comments) that aren't available to those who publish their sites to other Web servers. iWeb users who wish to publish to their own Web servers must first publish to a local folder, then copy the site files to the Web server manually; there's no way to publish directly to a non-.Mac server.
Commercial enterprises should also note that the .Mac terms and conditions forbid e-commerce, so they'll need to find a hosting alternative.
These caveats aside, iWeb is an easy tool for Mac users who wish to create an attractive and functional Web site. As part of the $80 iLife '06 suite, it's a bargain, and iWeb doesn't have the steep learning curve and high cost of professional Web design tools like Dreamweaver or GoLive.
RapidWeaver 3.5 -- Realmac Software's RapidWeaver is aimed at the same audience as iWeb: people who want to design and publish full-featured Web sites quickly and easily. Prior to the release of iWeb, I used RapidWeaver 3.2.1 for a personal Web site and found it extremely easy to use. Version 3.5 is currently in beta - you can download a trial version of the software or the latest production version (3.2.1) from Realmac's site.
Like iWeb, RapidWeaver uses pre-designed templates as a starting point, with a number of page types to choose from (Blog, Contact Form, File Sharing, HTML Code, iFrame, Movie Album, Offsite Page, Photo Album, QuickTime, and Styled Text). If I have one complaint about the way RapidWeaver works, it's that you enter your content in one page view, then click a Preview button to see what the page will actually look like. On the other hand, RapidWeaver gives you the flexibility to see (but not edit, alas) the HTML tags generated by the package, which is a powerful troubleshooting tool for more advanced users.
The templates also show less imaginative design than you find in iWeb or Sandvox. With few exceptions, I found that the RapidWeaver sites are similar in layout and navigation, with the main differences being the color, width, and typeface used. RapidWeaver 3.5 adds a feature called Theme Variations that enables designers to mix and match theme styles, eliminating the sameness of RapidWeaver sites. Third-party templates are also available.
Although many design elements can be dragged and dropped from iLife applications, RapidWeaver does not have the tight integration with the suite that iWeb provides. If you plan to use a lot of content from iPhoto or iMovie HD, iWeb may work better for you.
RapidWeaver works equally well when publishing sites on .Mac or to other Web servers. The built-in FTP client quickly moves content to your server and retains your login information for future updates. The 3.5 beta supports SFTP (Secure FTP), so if you're concerned about security you'll feel comfortable with RapidWeaver.
Unlike iWeb, RapidWeaver provides both a way to enter raw HTML code into a page and iframes, a technology used to embed a Web page into a frame on another page. An iframe can be useful if, for instance, you want to embed a Zen Cart or similar e-commerce site into your Web site.
In my experience, Realmac Software is good about updating RapidWeaver with both new features and bug fixes, and an active community of RapidWeaver users participate on the Realmac forums.
RapidWeaver is for Mac users who want a relatively easy Web design tool and aren't as fussy about good-looking templates. It costs $40 for a single user license.
Sandvox 1.0.1 -- The newcomer to the world of easy Web design tools for the Mac is Karelia Software's Sandvox. I've had the pleasure of using the different beta releases of Sandvox for the last few months, and it's great to see the finished product.
Like iWeb and RapidWeaver, Sandvox is a template-based application. Sandvox 1.0.1 ships with 27 well-designed and interesting templates; if you sign up for email updates from Karelia, you receive an additional five templates for free. Page types include Text, Photo, Contact Form, External Link, File Download, Movie Page, Site Map, and (for Pro users only) Raw HTML.
Sandvox is unique in its inclusion of pagelets, small plug-ins that add functionality to the site. Want to drop a picture into a sidebar or an article? Use a photo pagelet. Think that a del.icio.us list would enhance your site? Add a pagelet to do that. The Inspector tool is then used to change settings for both the pages and pagelets. Although pagelets add a lot of cool features, Sandvox limits where they can be placed on a page.
Sandvox provides the most flexibility of the three applications in terms of site publishing, with .Mac, FTP, SFTP, and WebDAV options. It also does the best job of creating standards-compliant pages, with most being generated as XHTML 1.0 Strict. Pro users can even have their HTML validated using the World Wide Web Consortium's validators before publishing.
Unfortunately, while I was testing Sandvox for this review, I encountered numerous errors. None of them actually crashed the program, but I was asked to fill out a bug report form each time and submit it to Karelia.
Karelia has made a Developer's Kit available to programmers who wish to create new data sources, page or pagelet types, or elements. In addition, they've published a Designer's Guide for those who wish to create their own page designs. By being open with this information, Karelia is opening the door to new features and designs.
Sandvox is for users who want high-quality HTML and standards compliance, as well as easy access to common blog features such as del.icio.us lists or Flickr galleries. It's available at the introductory price of $40 for the regular version or $70 for the Pro version (prices will increase after 16-Jun-06).
Conclusion While all three of these programs are excellent for beginning Web site designers or lazy webmasters like me, I encourage you to download and test-drive the free trial versions of RapidWeaver and Sandvox to see if their extra features outweigh the ease of use and flexibility of Apple's iWeb, and if you do choose iWeb, I hope you'll give my ebook a look as well.
by Jeff Carlson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
After downloading the last batch of digital photos from my trip to South Africa, I discovered that my wife and I shot 2,272 pictures, or roughly 11.3 billion pixels' worth of landscapes, rhinos, elephants, lions, and of course, family. As I mentioned in the article I wrote before leaving (see "Buying My Canon PowerShot S2 IS"), most of those shots were captured with a camera that I purchased expressly for this trip. I still have a lot of sorting and evaluating of pictures ahead of me, even several months later, but I want to follow up my first article by sharing some of my experiences with the camera, as well as a few lessons learned about shooting digital photography in the wild.
Since my trip in November of 2005, Canon released an updated version of the S2 IS, the PowerShot S3 IS, which offers 6-megapixel (MP) resolution versus the S2's 5 MP; an ISO 800 setting for shooting low-light or fast-action situations (the S2 maxes out at ISO 400); higher video recording quality; a larger 2-inch LCD screen; a black camera body instead of silver; and a few other small changes. The changes aren't significant enough for me to consider upgrading my current model, but if I were starting a camera search from scratch, I'd probably buy the S3.
The controls and design appear to be the same with both cameras, so I'm going to assume that my impressions of the S2 generally apply to the S3 as well.
Usability -- While preparing for the trip last year, I edited the second edition of Laurence Chen's ebook "Take Control of Buying a Digital Camera, version 2.0," which launched me on the quest to buy a new camera in the first place. In it, Larry emphasizes the importance of usability, of how well the camera operates in day-to-day use. With the S2, I found the control layout functional and handy.
For example, one important feature for me was the capability to switch to manual focus mode. The S2 IS doesn't include a focus ring around the lens barrel as you'd find on a digital SLR (single-lens reflex) model; instead, you press and hold the MF button with your left hand, and use a four-way rocker switch with your right thumb to adjust the focus. A large area of the LCD zooms to give you a close-up of what you're shooting to help you discern the focus level (a feature I wish was present on my older digital camcorder). With a little practice, I was able to manipulate the manual focus controls without looking at them, allowing me to pay attention to what was in the viewfinder.
I also frequently employed a focus feature that I wasn't aware of at first: with automatic focus enabled, press the Set button and use the rocker switch to move a small green rectangle on the screen to indicate which area has focus priority. Shooting close-up photos of a lizard, for example, was made easier with this feature, and didn't require that I set the focus manually. And because the Set button is placed just below the rocker switch, I could locate it by touch.
Another example of good usability is another button on the back, easily accessible with my right thumb, to which I could map a number of the camera's features. I set it to control ISO (shutter speed), which was useful when trying to shoot in low-light conditions or objects at high speed. Instead of navigating menus (which is always a pain), one button shuttled through the ISO settings.
Features in the Wild -- The S2 IS features a fast shot-to-shot mode that can capture approximately 2.4 images per second. When we tracked down a pride of lions in the Sabi Sands reserve, I used this feature extensively - these were the first lions we'd encountered close-up. The downside was that I nearly filled my 512 MB card, and I had forgotten to bring the backup card. I could have switched the shooting options to capture smaller-resolution pictures, or pictures with more compression, but... these were lions in the wild!
After a short while, I realized that although we were in the middle of their territory, the lions didn't actually pay much attention to the Land Rover we were in. And, because it was still early evening, they were particularly languorous. While they lazed about, I deleted some shots in the camera to make room, and ended up with enough space on the card to last the rest of the night's excursion.
Another feature I appreciated was the camera's relatively silent operation. Unlike a film camera, there's no audible click when you take a picture. (There is a simulated click sound, but I turned off the silly sound effects when the camera first arrived.) I can hear the zoom motor engage when I'm in a quiet environment and I'm looking through the viewfinder, but otherwise the camera is quiet.
Normally, sound isn't important, but one of the safari trips we took was a walking tour at Imfolozi. Unlike the other trips, where we rode around in Land Rovers, at Imfolozi we stayed at a central camp and then took hiking excursions into the bush. We were very much in the wild, led by two guides packing large rifles. Important guidelines are stressed at the beginning for how to act when you encounter an animal: never run, because running turns you into prey; hold your ground and stare down a lion, even if it attempts to intimidate you with a "mock charge;" if you come across a leopard, however, keep walking slowly and don't make eye contact, which can be interpreted as a challenge. This rule was put to the test when we stumbled upon a black rhino, which is more aggressive than the more common white rhino. Rhinos have poor eyesight but excellent hearing, so we were told to find cover behind some nearby scrub trees and remain still. As the rhino investigated, I was able to shoot some photos without worrying that the sound would alert it to our location. After a few tense minutes, our guides finally chased it away by making a ruckus and throwing rocks.
Finally, I'm almost embarrassed to say that the camera's digital zoom feature genuinely surprised me. Digital zoom is something I disable right away, because it generally results in muddled photos: the camera's image processor interpolates the pixels to simulate a more powerful zoom.
However, Kim and I went in search of hippos near the town of St. Lucia, where we were told they like to hang out. At first looking like a small clump of wet rocks, we found a trio of hippos lying partially exposed in an inlet. With the camera's normal 12x zoom, you could certainly tell that they were hippos, but they weren't very large in the frame. With nothing to lose (and bytes to burn on my memory card), I switched on the digital zoom feature. The images are slightly fuzzy, as I would expect, but they look more as if I hadn't focused properly than blocky pixelation. I still can't recommend digital zoom wholeheartedly, but it could mean the difference between getting a half-decent shot or nothing. I'm glad to see that the technology is progressing.
Wild Pixel Storage -- Unlike shooting on film, digital photography presents the problem of storage; you can't just roll film canisters into your socks in the suitcase. Again heeding Larry's advice, I brought two 512 MB SD memory cards, which worked out wonderfully. When one filled up, I could switch to the other and keep shooting. My 15-inch PowerBook G4 came along so that I could off-load the memory cards and store the photos on the hard drive using iPhoto. The only change I'd make for future trips is to ensure that I have plenty of free hard drive space available; toward the end of the trip, I found myself burning other data such as music files and old photos to DVD discs to make room for the new photos.
I also brought along my iPod and an Apple iPod Camera Connector, which was handy during excursions where it was impractical to bring the laptop. The iPod Camera Connector is a simple little USB adapter that enables you to connect a camera to the iPod and download photos to the iPod's hard drive. It drains the iPod's battery pretty aggressively, but it enabled me to do the three-day walking tour without dragging the PowerBook along.
Parting Shot -- My only truly negative opinion of the PowerShot S2 IS is the poor design of the lens cap: it just doesn't stay on well. A small amount of felt provides a little friction around the lens barrel, but it was constantly popping off and exposing the lens to the elements. I've heard that one workaround is to apply a couple layers of electrical tape to augment the felt; now that I'm back from the trip, I keep the camera in a small neoprene case that prevents the lens cap from detaching while the camera is in my computer bag.
I don't have a background in photography, so for me the S2 was incredibly easy to use and produced, if I may say so, outstanding images (one of which even won an award after Larry browbeat me into entering it in a photo contest!). Although my trip to South Africa has made me wonder if I should explore the notion of moving up to a digital SLR, for now I'm wedded to the S2's smaller size and great usability.
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.
GraphicConverter and RAW files -- A user's photo files appear to be shrinking when converting from RAW to TIFF, which doesn't seem right. (4 messages)
Utilities for Multiple Monitor Users -- Are three monitors too many? A reader finds himself dragging dragging dragging the mouse, but solutions exist that can help cut the repetition while still taking advantage of all that screen real estate. (9 messages)
FileMaker Mobile 8 and the Future of PDAs -- Joe Kissell's article from last week coaxes responses from readers who have used FileMaker Mobile 8. It also spurs discussion of whether a better solution might be Web-enabled portable databases, and how easily such a thing could be built. (8 messages)
Color problem with OSX 10.4, especially with iPhoto -- Some strange color artifacts make one reader question the health of his system, and others chime in with suggestions for solving the problem. (2 messages)
Firefox Upgrades and Other Problems -- Firefox's auto-update feature leads one reader to suspect that his Internet connection might be compromised. (6 messages)
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