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The autumn harvest from Apple's programmers came in last week, as Apple updated almost their entire software product line. Although each major application saw revisions, most Mac users will be interested in Mac OS X 10.4.8, a bug-fix update that spans several areas of the operating system.
Notable changes include security enhancements, improved connections using the Apple USB Modem, support for the EAP-FAST protocol to improve wireless network authentication security, better compatibility with third-party USB hubs, better performance on some broadband networks, and improved camera RAW support. Also, Apple has addressed a few bugs that affect Microsoft Office, and fixed a problem where Rosetta code translation on Intel-based Macs could be inaccurate.
The coolest new feature is that if you hold down the Control key while scrolling with a scroll wheel (or a pseudo scroll wheel, such as is provided by Raging Menace's Side Track utility), the screen zooms smoothly. Screen zooming has been available for a long time (see the Universal Access preference pane), but using keyboard shortcuts to zoom in and out is awkward. Scroll wheel-based zooming, which you can control in the Mouse view of the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane (and where you can also choose another modifier key besides Control), will be a boon to anyone with less-than-perfect eyesight or presenters who want to focus on a particular aspect of the screen.
Mac OS X 10.4.8's release notes were chatty, for Apple, but we're still pondering several of the items, such as "Windows File Sharing now generates only one process, avoiding an issue that could cause a Mac OS X computer to become unresponsive if it won a master browser election" - might a recount help?
Then there's "Resolves an issue in which a Finder alert message with the buttons 'Initialize', 'Ignore', and 'Eject' might not appear after connecting a partitioned FireWire hard drive." We generally prefer not seeing that dialog when we connect FireWire hard drives of any sort, other than uninitialized ones.
And although Apple does explain this next comment in a link, our first reading had us desperately trying to recall our classes in theoretical physics: "Improves Apple File Sharing client performance by changing the default AFP WAN quantum size."
The update is available in several forms, depending on your machine. Software Update should deliver the correct version, but updaters are also available as stand-alone downloads. For the Intel updates, Apple notes that the computer will restart twice after the update has been applied. As with all system updates, we recommend making a backup before proceeding. You can find the updaters here:
Apple has released a maintenance update for iTunes 7 that deals with a variety of issues in the initial release. According to Apple, iTunes 7.0.1 "addresses stability and performance issues with Cover Flow, CD importing, iPod syncing, and more." Windows users were apparently hit harder with iTunes 7.0, so we hope this release solves those issues as well. iTunes 7.0.1 is available via Software Update or as a 25 MB download.
The programs that make up iLife '06 and iWork '06 add interoperability with Aperture 1.5 (see "Aperture 1.5 Faces Latest Lightroom Beta at Photokina," 02-Oct-06). The following updaters are available via Software Update or as separate stand-alone downloads: iMovie HD 6.0.3 (7.1 MB), iWeb 1.1.2 (23 MB), iDVD 6.0.3 (7.2 MB), GarageBand 3.0.4 (30 MB), iPhoto 6.0.5 (80 MB), Keynote 3.0.2 (2.7 MB), and Pages 2.0.2 (2.8 MB). The iMovie HD update also claims to improve stability and fix a number of unspecified "minor issues," while the iPhoto update also contains new themes for printing calendars, greeting cards, and postcards.
At last week's Photokina photographic conference in Cologne, Germany, Apple unveiled Aperture 1.5, a significant update to its professional photo-management tool. The software itself was released late in the week as a free update for existing Aperture owners (a 125 MB download); it costs $300 for new users.
Aperture 1.5 addresses several issues that professional photographers have asked for since Aperture 1.0 arrived almost a year ago. At the top of the list is the capability to access images anywhere, rather than allowing Aperture to copy everything to its own library location on disk. The program can now also store previews of photos that reside on offline volumes to help you track your entire photo library better; these previews can be rated, reviewed, and organized while the originals are offline as well. Also improved are Aperture's color adjustment controls, RAW image support, the loupe's viewing settings, and metadata import and export. Aperture photos can now also be accessed from within iLife '06 and iWork '06 applications, and can be synchronized to an iPod using iTunes.
In an unusual (but welcome) move, Apple also reduced the minimum hardware requirements with Aperture 1.5, enabling it to work on all current Macs; earlier versions did not recommend the Mac mini and MacBook due to those machines' integrated graphics processors.
Apple has aggressively pushed Aperture to establish a foothold in the professional photography market, no doubt due to increasing competition from Adobe's pro photo tool Lightroom. Now re-branded Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, the beta 4 version was also released at Photokina as a free 14 MB download for Mac or Windows.
Lightroom is still a work in progress, but it demonstrates how Apple and Adobe are actively courting photographers and apparently responding directly to feedback. It's always fun to watch two heavyweights duke it out, knowing that the people using the products will end up winning as the programs improve.
Apple's high-end video and audio applications got a boost this week with a pair of updates. The Pro Applications Update 2006-02 fixes some unspecified problems with the underlying frameworks and shared components of Final Cut Studio 5.1, Final Cut Pro 5.1, Motion 2.1, Soundtrack Pro 1.1, DVD Studio Pro 4.1, LiveType 2.1, Compressor 2.1, Apple Qmaster 2.1, and Final Cut Express HD 3.5. The update is available via Software Update (if you own any of those products) or as a 7 MB download. However, clicking the download link at Apple's page about the update takes you to a form for downloading Final Cut Studio updates, which requires a Final Cut Studio license, so Software Update looks to be your only source if you use Final Cut Express HD or LiveType.
Independent filmmakers will be happy to learn that Final Cut Pro 5.1.2 fixes a number of bugs and improves native compatibility for cameras, such as new HD camcorders from Canon (the XLH1) and JVC (the GY-HD100 ProHD) that are capable of shooting at 24 frames per second (which is standard film speed). The update also supports native editing of the Sony XDCAM HD format, fixes critical issues with video scopes, and now supports Apple's FxPlug plug-in architecture. More details can be found in the Late Breaking News About Final Cut Pro 5 PDF (a 244K download). The Final Cut Pro 5.1.2 update is available via Software Update or as a 28 MB download for registered owners.
Apple also released updates to its audio-editing tools this week. Logic Express Update 7.2.3 (a 14 MB download) and Logic Pro Update 7.2.3 (a 25 MB download) resolve issues related to running the applications on the Mac Pro and Power Mac G5 Quad systems. In addition, both programs are "optimized for PowerPC G4, G5, and Intel based Macs with up to 2 dual-core processors," according to Apple.
Smith Micro Software, which purchased Allume Systems (previously known as Aladdin Systems) last year, has released StuffIt Deluxe 11, the latest version of the compression program that has been a part of the Macintosh landscape since 1986. StuffIt Deluxe 11 makes some significant changes to the way users interact with archives, but leaves the core functionality from StuffIt Deluxe 10 alone (see "StuffIt Deluxe 10 Plays with Tiger," 19-Sep-05).
StuffIt Archive Manager Takes Over -- The most notable change in StuffIt Deluxe 11 is StuffIt Archive Manager, which brings an iTunes-like interface to archive management. A pane on the left lists "collections" which are essentially the equivalent of smart folders in the Finder - automatically created groups of files that meet specific criteria. StuffIt Archive Manager comes with pre-defined collections for archives of various sorts, and you can also create your own collections with any criteria you want, and StuffIt Archive Manager keeps those collections up-to-date using Spotlight. In this respect, StuffIt Archive Manager isn't doing much more than creating a set of smart folders that appear in the Finder's sidebar, although it lets you filter the list of files quickly, providing a way of narrowing the list without redefining the collection.
But the point of StuffIt Archive Manager isn't to replace smart folders, it's to provide an interface for working with archives, and it replaces the old StuffIt Deluxe application. Toolbar buttons in StuffIt Archive Manager enable you to create new archives, browse existing ones (double-clicking them also works), and expand selected archives. When browsing an archive in its own window, you can create new folders, drag additional files in, get info on files in the archive, extract individual files, delete items, and add comments about the archive.
If you work with a lot of JPEG images, a preview pane in StuffIt Archive Manager displays thumbnails of images inside archives, eliminating the need to go outside the program to figure out which files to work with. StuffIt Deluxe's Spotlight support has gone in the other direction; it installs Spotlight plug-ins that enable Spotlight to look inside compressed archives. StuffIt Deluxe 11 also includes support for opening encrypted Zip archives that use the 256-bit AES encryption method.
Not surprisingly, StuffIt Deluxe 11 is now a universal binary for improved performance on Intel-based Macs. It also takes advantage of multiple PowerPC processors and Intel cores, and is multi-threaded, so rendering thumbnails for the preview pane doesn't restrict access to the rest of the program.
Other aspects of the StuffIt Deluxe 11 package include:
StuffIt Standard Edition Updated -- Also updated was StuffIt Standard Edition, a bundle of DropStuff and StuffIt Expander (the latter remains a free download on its own). The only new feature in StuffIt Standard Edition 11 is support in StuffIt Expander for encrypted Zip archives.
Pricing and Requirements -- StuffIt Deluxe costs $80, with upgrades from previous versions of either StuffIt Deluxe or StuffIt Standard Edition priced at $30. StuffIt Standard Edition costs $50, with upgrades from previous versions at $15. StuffIt Deluxe requires Mac OS X 10.3 or later, with Mac OS X 10.4 required for the Spotlight importer and Automator support in StuffIt Deluxe and for StuffIt Standard Edition 11 (older versions of StuffIt Standard Edition are available for earlier versions of Mac OS X and Mac OS 8.6 through 9.2).
Instant messaging from Microsoft received a significant Mac-centric upgrade last week with the release of Messenger for Mac 6.0. The latest version is a universal binary, offers Spotlight searching of transcripts, and interoperates with Yahoo's Messenger service. Microsoft Messenger is a free 8.6 MB download and has no fees for its use.
The latest version offers a custom status message showing the currently playing track in iTunes. It also handles custom and animated emoticons, a feature that doesn't exactly thrill us, but it's nice that the Mac version is in parity with Windows on this front.
iChat and AOL Instant Messenger users can't be reached with the single-user version of the Microsoft product, but corporate users with a Microsoft Office Live Communications Server can connect with AIM, iChat, and Yahoo IM users.
Let's say you desperately need to chat with a friend in another time zone as soon as he's awake or at work. Leaving voice mail or email is fine, but what if your friend doesn't think to check voicemail or read email first thing? Assuming he uses iChat sufficiently to log in automatically, you may be able to rely on a little-known feature of iChat: single-use, per-person alerts.
Select your friend's name in your Buddy List, choose Buddies > Get Info (Command-I), and in the Info window, choose Actions from the Show pop-up menu at the top. Then choose Buddy Becomes Available from the Event pop-up menu, and choose an alert - I prefer spoken text. Make sure to select "Perform actions only next time event occurs" if you don't want to be alerted every time your friend becomes available. Click OK, and wait. As soon as he appears online, iChat alerts you, and you have a chance to touch base right away.
I looked for a similar feature in Skype, but as far as I could tell, it has only the capability to alert you in general when any one of your contacts becomes available, rather than when a particular person becomes available (iChat can do that too). Still, unless you have a vast number of contacts, even that general capability could be worth using on a short term basis.
For many Macintosh users, the relational database is first and last encountered through recent versions of FileMaker Pro. While Windows users have long utilized Microsoft Access, there has never been an equivalent product included in the Mac version of Microsoft Office. Since the move to Mac OS X and its BSD underpinnings, however, several of the favorite databases of the Unix crowd now run with little fuss on your Mac. One of the most popular of these databases is the open source MySQL. It is certainly not the only option if you are looking to try your hand with a full relational database, but it does have a number of friendly interface options and the additional advantage of being packaged with Mac OS X Server.
Recently, new or improved applications have made it possible to access most features of MySQL without having to master a command line interface or the nuances of SQL (Structured Query Language). Power users can still take advantage of the extensive capabilities for storing and retrieving complex data, but one no longer needs to become a full-time database administrator to create a handy index of clients, books, sales figures, or whatever material you need to store. There is even a program to import your iTunes library directly into MySQL (SQLTunes). If you are finding spreadsheets useful but unwieldy, you might want to consider MySQL.
Using most current relational databases requires knowing a bit about how their pieces fit together. The core of the database is software designed to store, index, and retrieve data efficiently, but it normally has no graphical user interface at all. You communicate with the database through a text console by sending it commands in SQL or its own variant of SQL. In effect, the database acts as a server, and its actual location matters little so long as you have an IP connection directly to it and the appropriate ports open in any firewalls along the way.
The front end to such a database is really just the equivalent of a Web browser in that it interprets your requests, sends them in language the database server can understand, and displays the output in a friendly fashion. In theory, a single front end could not only connect to multiple MySQL databases, it could connect to any database that speaks SQL. Unfortunately, there are many eccentricities in how different database products interpret SQL, so you are often limited to certain pairings of database and front end. ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) drivers are supposed to act as the interpreters between SQL and the database's internal language, but they are sometimes proprietary pieces of code and not available for all situations. MySQL, as an open source product, offers more flexibility than many databases in letting you pick the front end you want to use.
Installing the MySQL Server -- But before we get to the fun part of working with the graphical interface, you need to start the database server humming on your Mac. As I mentioned, if you are already running Mac OS X Server, you probably have MySQL installed and simply need to start it using the preference pane (in System Preferences) for that purpose.
Otherwise, if you have Mac OS X 10.3 or 10.4, a version is ready for you at the MySQL organization's Web site. The current stable release is 5.0, with 5.1 undergoing further testing and development. Note that Apple includes a fairly old version with Mac OS X Server, so you may wish to upgrade to access the latest features. Simply follow the instructions in the Readme file to install the database (most often double-clicking on the package installer is all you need to do) and add the System Preferences pane included on the disk image. The preference pane needs to be placed in /Library/PreferencePanes; again, double-clicking the file should handle this task smoothly. The forums on the site can be helpful if you get stuck. The moment of truth comes after the database is installed and when you open System Preferences. Select the MySQL icon that should appear at the bottom of the window and click the Start MySQL Server button. You will need to supply an administrator password. If you are informed that your database is running, then you have successfully installed and started a full relational database.
Now you need to pick a front end... or several. There is no reason not to experiment with a number of the products I mention to find the one that best meets your needs. A good place to start, however, is with the tools offered by the MySQL organization. You will need, at a minimum, MySQL Administrator installed on your computer. Remember that what we have installed so far is only a server, so we must give instructions to the client you use on how to access it, just like you tell your Web browser what site you want to visit. When you start MySQL Administrator for the first time, it will ask you what database you wish to connect to. You should enter a server hostname of 127.0.0.1 (that IP address is a shortcut to your computer; the address "localhost" will also work), a port of 3306, a username of root, and no password. If all has gone as it should, you will be looking at a window with all sorts of information about your database. The first thing you should do is add a password for the root account (you will need to use it the next time you log into the database) and create an additional account for day-to-day use. Be sure to give this new account most of the privileges available, or at least Select, Insert, Update, Delete, Create, Drop, and Alter. Keep in mind that these privilege restrictions exist in case you want to create an account that, for instance, can only select data from the database but not make any changes.
Working with Tables and Data -- Now that you have the database installed and running, and you have a way to administer it, you can begin to work with tables and data. Several software choices are available, all of which attempt to do the same thing: let you work with MySQL while limiting your reliance on SQL. Many people will opt for the MySQL organization's toolset that includes MySQL Query Browser and MySQL Workbench. These programs overlap somewhat in features - the Table Editor is built into both MySQL Query Browser and MySQL Administrator. Workbench, also included in the download, aids in visually laying out and constructing a complex database. These programs are good, if basic, tools for creating tables and the data fields that they contain.
Unfortunately, these tools don't always work as would be ideal. For example, creating a field using the CHAR data type to hold text prompts you to fill in the maximum number of characters that should be allowed. Using the similar but more flexible VARCHAR data type, however, does not prompt you for the field length, and if you forget to add it, applying your changes brings up a notice that there is a syntax problem with your SQL, but doesn't specify the error. Given that one of the reasons to use the graphical interface is to avoid memorizing SQL, you are left with little recourse but to dive into the copious online documentation. That's not to say the documentation isn't useful; it is constantly expanded by helpful users through comments added at the bottom of each entry. In fact, I highly recommend you spend a few minutes learning about the different data types that MySQL offers for storing your data. There is always more to learn about using relational databases, but you can get surprisingly far with only a little bit of study.
The MySQL Query Browser won't do enough for many novices in avoiding SQL when it comes to selecting specific data. Its features are more those of a drag-and-drop syntax helper for creating queries than a fully graphical interface. If you have never encountered a basic SELECT statement before, you might want to look to one of the more friendly free or commercial applications.
When we venture beyond the MySQL application family, we encounter some other open-source projects designed to interface with your database server. CocoaMySQL is a clean, exceedingly Mac-like piece of software built to let users administer MySQL databases. While it does not provide functionality much beyond that of MySQL Administrator, it manages to be more intuitive at practically every step of the way. It won't help you build queries to retrieve your data, nor lay out a complex database diagram, but for quickly constructing a table with many columns it is an excellent application. Note that you will need the beta version to interface with MySQL 5.0, since the stable edition is now some three years out of date.
The SQuirreL SQL client is built on Java so as to be cross-platform, but it also requires that you have a recent version of Java installed on your computer and forsakes most Mac interface conventions. Because the SQuirreL client runs inside the Java runtime environment, you end up with an awkward double set of menus. Installation instructions suggest you need to venture into Terminal, but simply double-clicking the downloaded file works for most people. In general SQuirreL is an ungainly piece of software and only something the most advanced users will want to explore.
Another free, albeit limited, option comes from the phpMyAdmin Project. If you are already running a Web site using PHP and MySQL, then installing their set of PHP scripts enables you to administer most aspects of the database through a Web browser. It can also retrieve data for you if you already know enough SQL to create the queries you want to use. The situations where phpMyAdmin is handy are very specific and mostly concern webmasters, but using it can make your job easier... or at least keep you from having to go into the office on the weekend to clean up a database problem.
A similar but more extensible software tool is Webmin, based on the Perl language. This free product not only manages your MySQL database, but adds system accounts, configures file sharing, and performs dozens of other common server administration tasks. Webmin aims to be a complete and expandable system for running most common types of servers through a Web interface, but unless such servers are your everyday companions, the package is likely overkill for simply interacting with MySQL.
Moving away from the free tools and into generally more polished commercial products, we find a number of options at various levels of maturity and sophistication. Luckily, as with text editors and Web browsers, the variety of alternatives ensures there is probably a database front end that will suit every user's needs, likes, and dislikes. Better yet, most of these products offer trial versions for download on their Web sites.
One of the most Mac-friendly applications out there is SQLGrinder from Advenio. At $60, SQLGrinder provides an elegant, universal binary front end with nice features like SQL auto-completion, excellent import and export capabilities, and AppleScript and Automator compatibility. Images are stored and viewed directly through the program and it even remembers query results locally, allowing you to flip back to recent sets of data without having to rerun complex queries. The application uses a single window approach that makes it fairly intuitive to use and speeds navigation through multiple connections to different databases. Unfortunately, it does not offer a graphical SQL query builder - an omission that will leave novices struggling to create basic queries - yet it remains an excellent and well-designed tool for the user already familiar with writing SQL code.
The awkwardly named SQL4X Manager J from InterServices is a universal binary program for $60 that allows one front end to manage most major relational databases, including the big commercial ones such as Oracle and Microsoft's SQL Server. It is smart enough to adjust to whichever database you are connecting to by downloading recent database drivers, and it shows you only the features that work with that server. The interface is fairly complex (and could benefit from the addition of tooltips) but offers some very advanced features. You can add image files directly into BLOB (binary large object) fields and then view them in a slide-out drawer. There is even a basic reporting module like that found in the venerable Windows program Crystal Reports for creating dynamic documents from your data. Unfortunately for novices, there is no non-SQL query builder included, so with this product you must learn the language to leverage the power of your relational database. For people already comfortable with databases, however, SQL4X Manager J offers some unexpected capabilities in a single package.
Of all the commercial products (and there are more I tested but found either too unstable to mention or lacking the updates necessary to use with MySQL 5.0), two remain on my hard disk after experimenting with their features. The first, and the best one for power users, is Aqua Data Studio from AquaFold. This program requires Java 1.5 to be installed on your Mac, and it feels a little sluggish despite being a universal binary application, but it offers an excellent feature set that behaves similarly to the tools supplied by Microsoft to manage their SQL Server product. The average user will never utilize all of this program's capabilities, but it includes a powerful graphical query builder, a full query analyzer to ease writing SQL by hand, and complete database administration functionality. The license allows for free personal and educational use; otherwise it costs $150. Aqua Data Studio has its quirks and takes some time to learn, but it is an expansive and exceedingly useful product.
The other standout program is Navicat from PremiumSoft, which delivers a clean and efficient front end for MySQL for $100. A 30-day trial is available for download. The program's single primary pane and detailed editing windows let you create tables, modify their fields, add data to them, and retrieve result sets through complex queries, all without knowing a bit of SQL. If you switch between operating systems, Navicat is available for Windows and Linux in addition to Mac OS X. Navicat's interface is very Mac-like and friendly, with clear, labeled icons and a sensible layout. The graphical query builder provides an introduction to SQL by enabling you to create queries through arranging and connecting representations of tables, while showing the code your actions produce in another tab. The query builder does not let you set selection, grouping, and sorting criteria in a single window the way Aqua Data Studio or Microsoft Access does, but its approach using multiple tabs to build the parts of a query works reasonably well. Navicat is currently my choice of the commercial options for the SQL beginner because of its ease of use, intuitive design, and graphical query builder.
If you end up spending a lot of time working with MySQL or value the time savings a well-designed interface provides, you may want to consider either of these two commercial products, which come with the added benefit of technical support.
Regardless of the front end selected, Mac users at last have access to the power and efficiency of a full relational database. When spreadsheets no longer meet your needs, it might be time to give MySQL a try.
[Jonathan D. Sousa, an online applications architect, owns Sousa Consulting, LLC in Washington, DC. When not at his computer, he can be found running long distances or practicing yoga.]
PayBITS: If this article helped you to get the most out of MySQL
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New Ebook Helps Dreamweaver Users Get Started -- Dreamweaver may be the dream tool of the pros, but it can be a nightmare for newcomers and casual Web designers. Users who need help getting around in Dreamweaver and who need to put together a real site in a sensible way can now find help in the handy "Take Control of Getting Started with Dreamweaver." Written by Arnie Keller, a professor who teaches Web design at the University of Victoria, the 88-page ebook gives step-by-step instructions for creating a functional, template-based Web site that uses styles, layers, and an interactive navigation bar.
Like all Take Control ebooks, "Take Control of Getting Started with Dreamweaver" contains clickable links and bookmarks to help readers navigate efficiently and switch to the Web for supplemental material. New in this ebook are video screenshots that play mini-movies to provide live-action illustration of Arnie's instructions. The video screenshots are freely available for previewing from the ebook's Web page.
Upcoming Author Appearances -- TidBITS Senior Editor Joe Kissell, author of numerous Take Control ebooks, will be speaking at the Macintosh Computer Expo (MCE) in Santa Rosa, California this coming Saturday, 07-Oct-06. His presentation, which begins at 10:00 AM, will cover running Windows on an Intel-based Mac. In addition to the material in "Take Control of Running Windows on a Mac," Joe will discuss CrossOver and other methods for running Windows applications without Windows itself.
Then, on Tuesday, 17-Oct-06, Joe will be the featured presenter at the Diablo Valley Mac User Group in Walnut Creek, California. At the 7:00 PM meeting, Joe will cover the ins and outs of backing up your Mac based on "Take Control of Mac OS X Backups," and how Leopard's Time Machine feature will affect your backup strategy. He'll also present a special segment devoted to Thanksgiving dinner!
Bluetooth and Mighty Mouse on Mac Pro -- Kirk McElhearn shares his tale of woe getting the add-on Bluetooth module working in his Mac Pro. (7 messages)
Any good deals on .Mac renewals? This is the time of year when early adopters signed up for Apple's .Mac service at its introduction, which means it's time to renew. However, there are less-expensive ways to get a year's coverage. (13 messages)
Peering into the Future of the Infosphere -- A reader notes parallels between Luciano Floridi's ideas (in last week's issue) and the writings of a French Jesuit paleontologist 50 years ago. (2 messages)
Proofread repetition -- The previous TidBITS Talk thread spawns its own thread about philosophical schools of thought. (3 messages)
Nibbed USB extension cable fits only Apple Keyboard -- The handy USB extension cable was designed to work only with one device, because you really need even more cables near your Mac. (3 messages)
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