Other members of the TidBITS staff are also contributing to the TenBITS columns – our looks at issues and products surrounding Mac OS X – so check for initials after each item to see who’s responsible for it.
More on Mac OS X’s FTP Server — I hate being fooled by a special case. In last week’s installment of TenBITS, I said Mac OS X’s FTP server doesn’t do MacBinary and noted that uploading files with resource forks wouldn’t work. (If you’re not sure what MacBinary is, see "Macintosh Internet File Format Primer" in TidBITS-455.) That’s basically true, but Mac users aren’t likely to suffer file damage because most Macintosh FTP clients like Interarchy and Fetch automatically encode files as MacBinary if necessary (generally adding a .bin extension to the filename). That didn’t happen in this one case, since the file that alerted me to the problem was a self-mounting image, and my Internet Control Panel file mappings for the .smi extension were incorrectly set to treat .smi files as Binary rather than MacBinary, probably due to Real Player taking over the .smi extension for another type of file.
The real annoyance here is that because Mac OS X’s FTP server doesn’t understand MacBinary, as every other Macintosh FTP server does, files encoded into MacBinary and uploaded via FTP are unusable until you decode them with StuffIt Expander. And if you tried to download a file with a resource fork from Mac OS X via FTP without first encoding it manually into MacBinary format, you would lose the resource fork and wind up with an unusable file.
Is it fair to ding Apple for this failing of what is essentially a plain vanilla Unix FTP server? The answer is yes in this case, since Apple exposes the FTP server in the Mac OS X interface via the Sharing control panel. If Mac OS X contained other Unix services which were unfriendly to Macintosh users but were available only through the command line, adding Macintosh support would be nice, but a lower priority.
If this issue concerns you, let Apple know via their Mac OS X feedback page. While you’re at it, you might mention it’s been almost three weeks since the potential FTP vulnerability in Mac OS X’s FTP server was reported – that’s way too long to wait for an official statement regarding a security hole. [ACE]
Beware Apple’s Mac OS X Installer — The self-mounting image that caused me trouble with Mac OS X’s FTP server was for Timbuktu for Mac OS X. Even after I moved the file to Mac OS X successfully and mounted the image, Mac OS X claimed I didn’t have permission to copy files to my Applications directory. When I checked, the admin group that included my single user was incorrectly set to read-only. After trying to figure out a workaround, I gave up and enabled the root user in the NetInfo Manager (see Apple’s Tech Info Library instructions), logged out, logged in as root, fixed the privileges on my Applications folder, logged out, logged back in as myself, and disabled the root user again for safety. (Cumbersome, I know: I’m avoiding the command line as long as possible to evaluate Apple’s claim that it’s not necessary.)
A few days later, I discovered how the privileges on my Applications directory had been changed. Dantz Development’s Retrospect Client for Mac OS X used the Apple installer (indicated by a .pkg or .mpkg file), and Apple’s installer rewrote my privileges. It seems, after I discussed the issue with Dantz, that the Apple installer overwrites the permissions on the Applications folder with those automatically inherited by the installer, which can’t be guaranteed to match those on the target system. Dantz wasn’t the only company bitten by this issue – Adaptec’s installer reportedly refuses to install if the permissions aren’t right, and I’ve seen reports that Xtools from Tenon Intersystems also ran into related problems. But it gets worse: in an attempt to solve the permissions problem, Dantz rewrote their installer to use multiple packages (the .mpkg approach). However, if the user was logged in as root and the installer crashed during installation, it could delete the Applications folder entirely. (Dantz pulled that installer instantly – in the middle of the night – when the first reports came in; they’re working on a new one using MindVision’s Installer VISE.) My subsequent investigations with developers have revealed that Apple’s installer can also delete folders if they’re used by one package, but not by a subsequent one.
Workarounds for some of these and other problems have been found, and Apple is reportedly working on a new version of their installer. The moral of the story is that if you’re a user and want to install a program released as a .pkg or .mpkg installer file, check for installation problem reports first, don’t log in as root before installing, watch the privileges on folders touched by the installer, and make sure you’ve backed up at least your important data. If you’re a developer looking to distribute a program, either don’t use an installer at all (put your application in a bundle so the user can drag it to the Applications folder) or if you need root access or need to perform more complex installation tasks, consider an installer from another company. Both MindVision’s Installer VISE and Aladdin’s InstallerMaker have long provided developers – including Apple – with the flexibility, power, and reliability needed for complex installations. [ACE]
Interarchy 4.1 Adds Mac OS X Support — Stairways Software has released Interarchy 4.1, a free upgrade from Interarchy 4.0 with support for Mac OS 8, 9 and X. No release notes were available, so I assume there were no notable changes other than support for Mac OS X. It’s a 1.8 MB download. [ACE]
DragThing 4.0.1 Replaces Dock — If you think Mac OS X’s Dock is a crock, James Thomson’s $25 shareware DragThing 4.0.1 offers a highly customizable alternative (while still working under Mac OS 8.6 through Mac OS 9.1). Although they can’t actually replace the Mac OS X Dock’s window minimization and Control Strip-like capabilities, DragThing docks can be placed anywhere on the screen and offer multiple styles and colors to help you visually organize your applications, folders, documents, and URLs. If you have plenty of screen space, you can open multiple docks at once, or you can specify that certain docks appear depending on which application is active. It’s a 1 MB download. [JLC]
MYOB AccountEdge Goes Native — MYOB US, Inc. has released a carbonized version of MYOB AccountEdge, the company’s small business accounting package. AccountEdge uses Mac OS X’s Aqua interface and perhaps benefits more than most other applications from protected memory, since it’s comforting to know that AccountEdge and its essential financial data is unlikely to be affected if another application crashes. Limitations in Mac OS X restrict AccountEdge to single user mode and prevent it from faxing reports, invoices, or other forms. The update is free to AccountEdge users with valid serial and customer numbers. [ACE]
The Moose Peeks Under Mac OS X’s Hood — Mac OS X users who want to use the Unix networking tools underneath Mac OS X but are unhappy about Apple’s minimalist tools or editing configuration text files – another hallmark of Unix "interface design" – can now turn to The Moose’s Apprentice, or TMA. It’s a well-documented utility that provides a Mac-like interface for controlling Mac OS X’s underlying Unix network services. The final release will be $15; a free preview version of TMA 0.8 is available for download now and will expire on 30-May-01. The accompanying documentation (4 MB of the 5.3 MB download) explains many arcane Unix networking terms, a boon to Mac users! [MHA]
Tenon’s Xtools 1.0 Brings X to X — Tenon Intersystems, purveyors of Macintosh applications built around Unix originals, has released Xtools 1.0, an X Window server for displaying on the Mac OS X desktop the graphical output from Unix applications running on remote Unix machines. Based on the latest X11R6.4 and XFree86 open source code, Xtools is a multithreaded Cocoa application that supports multiple processors and is optimized for the PowerPC G4’s Velocity Engine. Xtools also supports Macintosh features such as multiple monitors and copy and paste between Mac OS X and X Windows applications. For brave Unix-savvy users, there’s also an open source XonX project working on a free X Window server for Mac OS X, though it doesn’t sound as though it’s as far along or mature as Xtools. Xtools costs $200 ($100 for educational users) with quantity discounts available for both commercial and educational sites. [ACE]
Everybody Must Get Stoned — Stone Design deserves an award for the first piece of Mac OS X software to arrive here in physical form (it actually came in before we even received Mac OS X itself). Stone Studio is a $300 Cocoa-based suite of seven applications for graphics professionals, including an object-oriented drawing program, a time and billing program, and a number of smaller utilities for creating GIF animations, PDF documents from PostScript originals, and more. Not only does Stone Design earn points for promptness, but it’s good to see completely new productivity applications appear because of Mac OS X. [ACE]