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Apple has announced that the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) will be held 11-Jun-07 through 15-Jun-07 in San Francisco, two months earlier than in 2006. Developers can now start planning travel around those dates, and it's even more certain now that Leopard will ship before June, since Apple will want to focus on new and upcoming technologies at the conference. That said, I'll be surprised if Apple announces the next big cat at WWDC to avoid taking any wind out of Leopard's sails. Although there were only about 14 months between Jaguar and Panther, it took 18 months for Tiger to ship, and Leopard appears to be on track for 24 months. (Special thanks to the excellent Mactimeline.com site for date confirmation.)
Newsweek recently brought us Bill Gates's ignorant ranting about security on the Mac, a topic on which he was apparently informed solely by the existence of the Month of Apple Bugs project. He was quoted as saying, "Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." Way to get a dig in at Apple and taunt the cracker community at the same time, Bill!
Those of us who actually use Macs know just how utterly silly that statement is, especially considering the hordes of zombie PCs out there hammering everyone on the Internet with spam and automated attacks. No one (or at least no one who knows anything) is saying that Macs are immune from problems - far from it - but for a variety of reasons, Macs are currently relatively unencumbered by the kinds of security exploits that afflict Windows XP.
Bill must not use a Mac on a regular basis, and while I can see the dogfood value in that (he certainly should be using Windows!), it would have been nice if he'd first talked with some of the Mac folks in Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit before spouting off. Microsoft has been making Mac products for a very long time now, and the MacBU as a separate entity is now 10 years old. More to the point, this bit of inspired icon geekery using colored Post-it notes shows they have the right Mac spirit. Now if only they could convert the icons to metal sculptures along the lines of Apple's long-gone icon garden (also be sure to check out the QuickTime VR movie).
Congratulations to Hans van Helvert of exsistere.net, Nina Contini Melis of mac.com, and Michael Scriven of aol.com, whose entries were chosen randomly in last week's DealBITS drawing and who received a copy of the SmileOnMyMac Productivity Suite, worth $129. Entrants who didn't win received a discount on any SmileOnMyMac product. Thanks again for entering this DealBITS drawing, and we hope you'll continue to participate in the future. Thanks to the 747 people who entered, and keep an eye out for future DealBITS drawings!
All too often we see products released with relatively basic feature sets, after which they evolve into powerful applications used by professionals. That leaves few choices for those who want a simple, focused program. Think about how that's happened with page layout, graphics, and Web authoring tools, as well as audio editing applications. That's why it's great to see programs like Rogue Amoeba's Fission, which is a simple audio-manipulation program that handles numerous audio formats and provides lossless editing of MP3 and - uniquely on the Mac - unprotected AAC files. Unlike high-end audio programs, Fission doesn't attempt to do everything; it focuses on helping you trim, split, and manipulate audio files for cleaning up podcasts, making ringtones, eliminating commercials from recorded radio shows, and more (for additional details, see "Fission Manipulates Audio Tracks of All Stripes," 2006-09-25). Also unlike high end audio programs, Fission doesn't come with a high price tag.
In an unprecedented move, Apple last week posted on the company Web site an open letter from Steve Jobs entitled "Thoughts on Music." That Apple chose the open letter approach is interesting, but sensible, since there isn't really a conventional format for a company to express an opinion or take a position other than a press release, and the letter was aimed, as we'll see, at many audiences other than the press. I'm a bit surprised that Apple didn't choose to film Jobs talking instead (or at least in addition to posting the letter). Why not harness the Reality Distortion Field when your CEO controls it? Such a video would have become an instant hit via iTunes and YouTube, further spreading Apple's message.
Video or no video, you can and should read the full letter, which makes a number of interesting and relevant points about the current state of the music industry, digital rights management (DRM), and Apple's role in the world.
First, Apple was forced to create and use FairPlay DRM when selling music on the iTunes Store because that was the only way the big music companies would agree to license their music to Apple. However, perhaps due to the music companies not realizing the potential size of the online market, Apple was initially able to negotiate pretty good terms, which accounts for FairPlay-encrypted tracks working on up to five computers and unlimited iPods, enabling burning to audio CDs from the same playlist some number of times, and so on. (Also, iTunes ran only on Macs at the time, so Apple was able to convince the music companies that the platform's small market share ensured that if the experiment were a failure, they wouldn't have lost much.) Apple may have benefited early on from the way FairPlay locks iTunes Store users into using iPods, but Jobs claims that on average, only about 2 percent of music on iPods was purchased from the iTunes Store (of course, that's a weak argument for any individual who happens to have purchased a lot of music from the iTunes Store, but no one was forced to buy from Apple). Plus, remember that before the opening of the iTunes Store, Apple was running its "Rip, Mix, and Burn" commercials, which were widely seen as tweaking the recording industry.
Second, if FairPlay were breached, Apple would have to fix it in a very short time or risk losing its ability to sell music on the iTunes Store. There have been several breaches of FairPlay that Apple has resolved quickly - thanks to the company controlling all portions of the media-purchasing and playing process - but on the whole, FairPlay's protections have remained intact. That may be in part due to it having reasonable conditions, unlike many other DRM systems. But with 70 percent of the market, Apple certainly isn't escaping attention by being a small player, as is often stated as a reason for the paucity of exploits aimed at Mac OS X. That said, Jobs unfairly equates the desire to break FairPlay to the desire to steal music, conveniently ignoring how many people are both philosophically and practically offended by DRM and how it limits their fair use rights.
Third, were Apple to license FairPlay to other manufacturers, the likelihood of a license-endangering breach and the difficulty of implementing a quick fix goes up, as the number of people in different companies with access to code and encryption keys increases along with the number of devices available to crack. That worry is not unfounded; it was by hackers disassembling the object code of the Xing DVD player that the Content Scrambling System (CSS) protecting DVD movies was broken. And while Apple could in theory license other forms of DRM from Microsoft and others to enable iPods to be used with other online music stores, the general consensus among industry insiders is that it would be a cold day in hell before that would happen (though you can never count out global climate change affecting the netherworld; see the linked picture). Plus, unlike releasing iTunes and the iPod for Windows, it's unclear how licensing Microsoft DRM would benefit Apple, given that most of the online music stores have significant overlap in their catalogs. The primary benefit to users would involve being able to choose an online music store that offers a subscription plan, which Apple has steadfastly avoided with the iTunes Store. (Of course, subscription plans require DRM, because otherwise you could keep forever everything you heard once, so eliminating DRM would also destroy that entire business model.)
Fourth, although Apple owns 70 percent of the online music market today, with companies like Microsoft and Sony entering the fray with similar proprietary music stores selling DRM-protected content that plays on only specific music players, Apple sees no problem with its dominant position (no surprise there). Jobs also points out that because only 2 percent of music on the average iPod has been purchased from the iTunes Store (the remainder being unprotected MP3s ripped from CDs or purchased online from unprotected sources), it's disingenuous to portray Apple as locking iPod users into using the iTunes Store. And something he doesn't say is that it's easy - if extra work - to remove FairPlay by burning protected tracks to an audio CD, after which they could be transferred to any other music player.
Fifth, and this is undoubtedly the most interesting point, Jobs states unequivocally that Apple would prefer that all music sold online was DRM-free, because it would be better for customers who want to use alternative music stores or alternative music players. What he doesn't say is that it would also be easier for Apple, which wouldn't have to maintain and update FairPlay constantly. It would also be better for competition, eliminating what little lock-in currently exists between a particular music store and its associated player. Given how Apple essentially created the portable music player market with the iPod (not the first, but so much better than its predecessors that it might as well have been) and the online music market (by integrating the iTunes Store into iTunes itself), I don't think Apple fears competition at all, and may even welcome it as an encouragement to innovation.
Sixth and lastly, Jobs points out that while fewer than 2 billion protected tracks were sold online in 2006, the music companies sold over 20 billion songs in completely unprotected form via conventional CDs. He uses this fact to point the finger of blame at the music companies themselves for furthering illegal music copying. This is in fact a tricky argument, because it can be used either to push for removing DRM restrictions on music sold online or for increasing restrictions on physical media. Efforts to use copy prevention technologies on CDs have failed, partially through technical ineptitude (they simply didn't work), and partially through utter stupidity, as in the case of the Sony BMG rootkit scandal, in which Sony intentionally installed spyware on Windows PCs when a protected CD was played.
Why This Letter, and Why Now? Response among our sources has been interesting. Many don't feel that Apple is saying anything new, but I'm not sure I agree. Apple has never before come out against DRM in music so plainly. Also, even if these attitudes aren't completely new, Apple hasn't previously shown such aggressiveness in promoting them and assigning the blame for DRM to the music companies. It's possible that the letter is in part a PR effort to paint Apple as a friend of the consumer, in contrast with the big bad music companies, thus giving Apple the high moral ground with customers and establishing Apple's position in advance of any large-scale movement on the part of the music companies to offer unprotected tracks via other online services, as EMI has done with Yahoo.
Interestingly, video is never mentioned in the letter. Jobs has always seemed to consider music and video differently, perhaps because of his association with Pixar, and it's also certainly true that Apple is by no means in the same powerful negotiating position with the movie studios as it is with the music companies. Plus, all commercial DVDs are nominally protected against copying by CSS, and bandwidth limitations have slowed large-scale sharing of video content.
But again, why now, and to whom is the letter targeted? It's almost certainly a response to the Consumer Council of Norway's complaint against Apple with regard to the End User License Agreement (EULA) with which iTunes customers must agree. Among the criticisms (many of which are legitimate) is the concern about interoperability - songs purchased on the iTunes Store cannot be played on other devices (the conversion step I outlined previously is never mentioned). In essence, Apple is saying to Norway and the other European countries, "Look, this DRM wasn't our idea, and without it, we couldn't maintain the licenses that enable us to be in business. But we'd happily drop the DRM if we could; go talk to the music companies about that." If push comes to shove, Apple will simply pull the iTunes Store out of Norway.
Another possibility is that the letter is meant to tweak Microsoft over that company's embrace of DRM, including the Windows Media DRM, the Windows Media DRM-incompatible Zune (on the sales of which Microsoft pays royalties to the music companies; see "Of the Zune, DRM, and Universal Music," 2006-11-13), and the extensive DRM support that's built into Windows Vista. Peter Gutmann, a University of Auckland computer science researcher who works on the design and analysis of cryptographic security architectures, has posted an exhaustive discussion of the problems that are likely to result from Vista's low-level content protection code. Jobs's letter never mentions Vista, but it seems entirely within Jobs's character to set Apple as an alternative to Microsoft with respect to DRM.
It's also possible, though less likely, that the letter comes in part as a followup to a rather unflattering portrayal of Apple's attitudes about DRM in the New York Times. In that article, the head of the Nettwerk Music Group, Terry McBride, says that although Nettwerk's music is sold on the eMusic online service without DRM restrictions, Apple insists on adding FairPlay to the same tracks sold on the iTunes Store.
A challenge to Apple then: start selling unprotected tracks on the iTunes Store when the rights-holders request such an action. Apple currently makes many unprotected podcasts available for free in the iTunes Store, though I don't know if there are any unprotected podcasts or songs that are sold, or if Apple currently has back end limitations that require FairPlay on non-free tracks. And if Apple really wanted to put its money where Steve Jobs's mouth is, it could buy eMusic, which is the second-largest online music service, and which has about two million tracks from independent artists, none of which contain any DRM. (Of course, buying eMusic might draw unwanted attention from monopoly regulators.)
Other Views -- Coverage of the letter has been widespread, with a variety of responses. On Playlist, Jim Dalrymple has some interesting reactions from Real Networks and a wonderfully typical comment from the RIAA. Also on Playlist, Nancy Gohring of IDG News Service reports on the response from the Consumer Council of Norway, which admits that music companies have some responsibility but still claims that ultimate responsibility lies with Apple. The Economist concludes, "Mr Jobs's argument, in short, is transparently self-serving. It also happens to be right." Dan Moren of MacUser.com imagines a world without DRM, John Gruber of Daring Fireball reads between the lines of Jobs's letter, and as usual, John Moltz of Crazy Apple Rumors Site makes up the stuff you wish had been said.
If the Book of Ecclesiastes were written today, it might include some jaded commentary on the plethora and ephemerality of computer programs - something along these lines: "Software cometh and software passeth away, and countless as the sands are the reviews thereof." Nevertheless, those sands do conceal an occasional treasure; and one such is Martin Hairer's Amadeus.
Amadeus is a sound file editor. I've been using it for over six years, for a variety of purposes, and throughout that time it has remained firmly and indispensably central to my sound-processing activities. It has an amazing breadth of abilities, combining serious power with delightful simplicity, at an astonishingly low price. To use it is to love it.
As of mid-January 2007, Amadeus comes in two versions. The program I've been using all this time, properly called Amadeus II, is a Carbon program. The current version of Amadeus II (3.8.7) runs natively under Mac OS X, and also works fine under Mac OS 9.2. (If you're still reveling in the retro experience, you can even obtain an earlier, unsupported version that runs under Mac OS 8.6.) The "II," by the way, was added to the name years ago, when the original Amadeus, which could run on a 68K Macintosh, was updated to version 2.0 and became PowerPC-only.
Amadeus II, however, runs under Rosetta on an Intel-based Mac. The developer recognized that an Intel-native incarnation was desirable, and took the opportunity to update the program to a Cocoa interface. This update has been released as Amadeus Pro, a universal binary with a somewhat broader feature set than its predecessor.
Past and Present -- My affection for Amadeus is intimately bound up with how I came to start using it and the sorts of thing I've done with it over the years. Back in the days before Mac OS X, in December 2000, I looked sadly at my massive collection of cassette tapes, thought about all those little magnetic particles silently hydrolyzing or falling off or whatever evil deteriorative activity they were indulging in, and resolved to transfer all this music into a digital format before it evaporated forever.
My working method began with a play-through of the cassette, recording it onto the computer as an AIFF file, using a wonderful piece of freeware called Coaster. This turned each entire side of the cassette into a single sound file. But what I wanted were multiple sound files containing individual songs, and that's where Amadeus entered the story. (I use the word "song" loosely, in the way that iTunes does; on an audio CD these would be called "tracks," but the word "track" has another usage in Amadeus Pro, similar to its use in GarageBand or iMovie, so I'm deliberately avoiding ambiguity.)
So, I opened the file using Amadeus, which showed me the waveforms of the right and left stereo channels, along with an overview of the entire file. I could use the overview to help navigate. I could zoom in and out to see waveform details or to get the larger picture. I could click to start playing at a certain point, or play a selected region. I could insert a bookmark designating a point of interest in the file, and navigate to it easily later on. And of course I could cut and paste a selected section of the waveform. Thus, it was simple for me to work my way through the file, finding the start and end of each individual song on the tape, and marking those points. Then later I would use those bookmarks to select one song at a time, along with a little of the surrounding silence, and copy and save that selection as an individual song file.
Doubtless that sounds extremely simple - as, indeed, it was. What I didn't fully appreciate at the time, though, is that it was simple in part because Amadeus made it simple. Over the years since then I've used many other sound-editing programs, but none that lets me interact so directly and simply with a waveform. Certain acts and gestures are fundamental to working with sound files: play from a point, stop, have the insertion point either remain where you stopped or return to where you started playing from; zoom in or out; select; copy and paste; navigate within a large file. Every other sound-editing program manages somehow to make one or more of these acts difficult, clumsy, or frustrating. Amadeus has always been a model of sparkling ease and clarity in this regard; I find it nearly impossible to perform detailed editing of a sound in any other application.
Moreover, Amadeus has evolved since the year 2000, so that to perform that same task of recording a large sound file and splitting it into songs today is even easier. First of all, Amadeus now has the capability to record, and I often recommend it for that purpose. Second, Amadeus now has a feature allowing you to search your file for clips. (This feature, like several others, was added at my suggestion. A "clip" is a place where the recorded signal was too loud for the system and exceeded its maximum bandwidth, so that the top or bottom of the wave was cut off; it is crucial that your recording contain no clips, since when played they sound like little explosions and are bad for your equipment.) Third, Amadeus can split a file at its bookmarks, so it's sufficient to go through the file, mark the start and end of every song, and let Amadeus break it up for you. In fact, Amadeus can even help you isolate the individual songs by marking areas of silence automatically.
Now here comes my second major use of Amadeus. Having broken up the file into individual songs, I examine each song for clicks and pops. (Many of my tapes came originally from vinyl LPs, which often had scratches or foreign matter on the record surface.) You can find these by listening, or else you can let Amadeus search for them, selecting each spot that it thinks might be a click. When you find one, you use the Interpolate function; Amadeus smoothes out the jagged interruption of the selected click into something based on the surrounding sound, so it magically vanishes and becomes just part of the music (or, in more difficult cases, a barely audible glitch).
This feature alone is worth its weight in gold. I've tried many other programs, some of them quite high-end, for removing clicks and pops; none of them does the job as well as walking through the file with Amadeus. (Actually, an application called ClickRepair has recently emerged, and does a splendid job of automated de-clicking; even so, I find that my results are improved if I use it in combination with manual de-clicking in Amadeus.)
The Interpolate feature is also great for joining pasted material smoothly. For example, I've sometimes cut out the coughing between songs in a live recording, or, in a recording of myself speaking, I've removed a verbal stumble, a breathing noise, or an overly long silence; after such a cut, the waveforms at the point of removal don't match up, until Interpolate turns the break into a smooth, undetectable join. Alternatively I might use, at such places, an Amadeus feature called Transition, where the material on the two sides of the discontinuity is shifted together so as to overlap along with a crossfade.
Features and Futures -- Often, as a song is about to achieve its final form, I use some additional features of Amadeus. If the recording has some hiss or other low-level noise, I might use Fade In at the start and Fade Out at the finish, so the sound doesn't begin and end abruptly. Typically, to avoid clips, my recording is a little softer than it needs to be; one would usually prefer to make the fullest possible use of the available bandwidth, with the loudest part of the signal nearly as loud as the maximum allowable. Amadeus's Normalize function takes care of that for me.
Also, there is Amadeus's capability to open and save a wide variety of sound file formats, converting as necessary. For example, these days I typically record in 24-bit AIFF format. If I want to make an MP3 file from such a recording, I have to convert to a WAV first, because my preferred MP3 compressor is LAME, which doesn't understand 24-bit AIFF files. Since I've typically been working in Amadeus anyway towards the end of the preparation process, I use it to save as a WAV. (You can save as an MP3 directly from Amadeus, which has LAME built in; but Amadeus II doesn't let me tweak LAME with the command-line arguments I prefer.)
Amadeus can also apply filters, including any VST or Audio Unit filters you have, along with some specialized equalization filters for processing files made from phonograph records. However, the crudeness of the interface limits the usefulness of these features: filter settings interfaces are presented in a modal dialog, which means that you can't select different regions of your sound to audition, and there are no facilities for adjusting the wet/dry mix, A/B comparison of different settings, and so forth. For this reason, I generally apply filters using a more advanced program specifically aimed at hosting them, such as DSP-Quattro.
Features that I've used less often include Amadeus's capabilities to change a sound's pitch, with or without changing its speed; to reverse a sound; and to provide a graphic analysis of a sound's frequency components as a spectrum or as a sonogram.
Amadeus Pro introduces two major features. One is that a sound file can now contain multiple tracks, each with its own adjustable amplitude envelope. So, for instance, one track might be the two stereo channels of an accompaniment, while the other might be the single channel of a voice track. Thus, Amadeus Pro invites use as a mixing program. Such use would probably be limited to combining existing material, however, since you can't (except in the most rudimentary fashion) record one track while listening to another. The other new feature is batch processing, enabling you to do such things as normalize and convert the file format of multiple files with a single command.
Conclusions -- Although I'm pleased to see Amadeus II modernized into Amadeus Pro, and although Amadeus Pro is a universal binary, sports a Cocoa interface, and is in some respects better behaved than Amadeus II (in particular with regard to its memory management and its use of the computer's CPU), I can't help feeling that something has been lost in the translation. The basic action of selection and repeated playback has become fussier and more confusing, in part thanks to a newly introduced differentiation between the playback head position and the insertion point. And Amadeus II's facility for letting you adjust the sensitivity parameters used when seeking suspected clicks and pops is completely missing in Amadeus Pro. For these and other reasons, I'll probably continue to stick with Amadeus II for a while yet.
When considering Amadeus, you must take into account, I think, four things: your own needs and experience; the breadth, variety, and downright generosity of the program's features; the interface; and the price. The combination is unbeatable, making Amadeus the single basic sound editor that every beginner should have. There are, and I have used, many other sound editors, ranging from freeware to high-end; but for basic editing actions, such as splitting a sound file into songs, adjusting and fading its endpoints, cutting out material and seamlessly joining the remainder, and converting from one format to another, Amadeus is the tool to which I always return. Add to that its unparalleled capability to detect and nullify individual clicks and pops, and you can see why it has been a staple of my sound-processing repertory since the day I first used it.
Amadeus Pro is $40 ($25 for registered Amadeus II users). It requires Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) or higher, and is a universal binary. It's a 12 MB download, and is available as a 30-day demo. Amadeus II costs $30 (free, on request, for registered Amadeus Pro users). It requires Mac OS 9.2 or higher, and runs natively on Mac OS X (under Rosetta on an Intel-based Mac). A 15-day demo is available as a 3 MB download.
Month of Apple Sales #2: Love the One You're With -- Valentine's Day is this week, reminding us to think of our nearest and dearest. In the Mac world, you needn't pine for new versions of iPhoto, iTunes, iWeb, and GarageBand when you can focus on the iLife '06 versions you have now. If you're quick, you can learn how to send your sweetie an iWeb-created invitation to a romantic viewing of a photo slideshow set to music you composed in GarageBand. But don't geek out too much - follow it up with gourmet chocolates accompanied by soft jazz (we're partial to Green Mountain Chocolates and Abbey Lincoln). To get started, save 60 percent on this bundle of essential information about iPhoto, iTunes, iWeb, and GarageBand. That's 5 ebooks for only $23.18 (regularly $57.95).
And yes, if you want the bundle but already own one of these books, feel free to give your extra copy to a friend. Next week's sale will be another good one (and don't worry - there's no overlap)!
Apple and the enterprise -- This popular thread continues to draw discussion of Mac usage in large organizations, though sometimes in ways that aren't visible to the outside world. (83 messages)
iMac midnight awakening -- A reader's new 24-inch iMac chimes each night at midnight, but the cause isn't clear. (3 messages)
New GTD kid on the block - Ghost Action -- Another Getting Things Done entry arrives on the scene; how does it compare to others? (3 messages)
802.11n AirPort Extreme Base Station -- The new wireless base stations are shipping, and readers share their experiences setting them up, hooking up external hard drives, and reporting on data transfer speeds. (4 messages)
PowerBooks on long flights -- How do travelers deal with battery life on long international flights? Extra batteries? Custom power adapters? (13 messages)
Apple & DRM -- Readers react to Steve Jobs's public thoughts on music and his statement that Apple would drop DRM "in a heartbeat" if given the opportunity. (12 messages)
Dealing with the lack of an Eject key -- Some keyboards don't include a key for ejecting optical media, and Apple's recent Macs don't include a physical eject button. What options are available? (7 messages)
Wired Ethernet alternative for MacBook -- Would a USB Ethernet adapter work on a MacBook that has a damaged Ethernet port? (2 messages)
Build Your Own 23-inch MacBook -- Readers respond to Jeff Porten's article about using a second laptop screen as an extended monitor, and offer an alternative VNC client. (2 messages)
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