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Most of our news revolves around the Mac this week, as a reminder that we’ll know what Apple is going to announce on Wednesday when they announce it, and not before. Most notably, Apple announced record sales and profits today, selling more Macs (and iPhones) than ever before. Also, Mozilla has shipped a notable – though not entirely in a good way – new version of Firefox, Apple has finally updated Boot Camp to support Windows 7, and much of the community buzz of late surrounds a grassroots movement to create an email client for power users. Joe Kissell contributes an extensive look at why photos from Photoshop Elements can look so much worse on the Web, and Adam covers Amazon’s futile attempt to steal Apple’s thunder by opening the Kindle up to developers. Notable software releases this week include Phone Amego 1.1.9, Firmware Restoration CD 1.8, Things 1.2.9, Spell Catcher 10.3.3, TextWrangler 3.1, Mac Pro EFI Firmware Update 1.4, Xserve EFI Firmware Update 1.2, and Security Update 2010-001.

Adam Engst 3 comments

Grassroots Movement to Create New Letters Email Client

Consider yourself a power user when it comes to email? Frustrated by your current email client? You’re not alone. Although the Mac is home to numerous email clients – Mail, Entourage, Thunderbird, Eudora, Mailplane, Mailsmith, GyazMail, PowerMail, MailForge, Outspring Mail, and more – it’s almost a given that a power user will have a set of desires that can’t be met in a single program.

That may change, thanks to a grassroots project initiated by a blog post from NetNewsWire developer Brent Simmons. Within days, the Email Init mailing list that Simmons set up for discussion of just what such an email program would entail had received many hundreds of messages, and debate raged on topics ranging from whether or not the program should allow multiple instances of a single three-pane window to the best ways of handling conversation threading. An initial vision document written by Simmons lays out some of the decisions made in those early days;
presumably subsequent discussions will generate revisions and refinements.

In the meantime, the likelihood of the project actually completing something increased with the election of John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame as president of the informal group. (Gruber has now taken over the group’s Twitter account, if you want to follow in a low-bandwidth way.) Gus Mueller of Flying Meat Software (makers of Acorn and VoodooPad) will serve as the technical lead, but as an open source project, the assumption is that many people will contribute.

Having seen (and initiated) roughly similar projects in the past that never went anywhere, I’d say that Letters faces an uphill climb to meet the needs of the people who are the most fired-up about it now. Developing professional level software isn’t easy, and although email often seems simple, it’s an ecosystem that suffers from a vast number of edge cases, thanks to compliance problems among the many email servers and clients, and of course due to the massive abuse from spammers.

That said, much as I don’t think shipping a sufficiently functional Letters 1.0 will be easy, I do think it’s likely to happen, because enough of the people involved understand the challenges and have the necessary experience and skills to make it happen. It won’t be quick though, since Gruber noted in a recent thread that Letters 1.0 may require Mac OS X 10.7, about which Apple has said nothing in public.

So if you have skills to contribute, or even just carefully considered opinions about how to improve upon the standard email experience, I encourage you to subscribe to the Email Init mailing list and see how you can help.

TidBITS Staff 1 comment

Apple Reports Record Sales and Profits for Q1 2010

Apple posted financial results for the company’s first fiscal quarter of 2010 today, racking up revenue of $15.68 billion and a quarterly profit of $3.38 billion, or $3.67 per diluted share. However, it’s important to note that this is the first quarter in which the results incorporate the revenue from the current quarter’s iPhone sales, instead of spreading the income over the device’s expected two-year lifespan, as the company has done in the past.

Oh, who are we kidding? Apple still made a huge amount of money on record sales of Macs and iPhones, marking another best quarter ever. The year-ago figures – which are particularly relevant because Q1 is Apple’s holiday sales quarter – were $11.88 billion in sales and $2.26 billion in profit, meaning that sales revenue increased by 32 percent and profit increased by 50 percent. Sales to the education market were up an impressive 16 percent year over year, setting new December records. The company ends the quarter with $39.8 billion in cash and securities, an increase of $5.8 billion over the previous quarter.

While 2009 did not witness such dire worldwide economic conditions as 2008, consumers dramatically retracted their spending, businesses restricted information technology budgets, and small businesses found it difficult to obtain routine financing. Computer sales took an unprecedented dip with negative growth, making Apple’s increase in sales even more remarkable.

Apple was also able to increase, not just maintain, its overall profit margin, making a 40.9 percent gross return last quarter compared to 37.9 percent a year ago. Margin is a good measure of desirability: Apple can hold its prices while reducing cost of manufacture and see sales actually increase. Most computer makers have suffered from the race to the bottom for commodity computer gear, which has led to ever-shrinking margins.

During a conference call with analysts following the release of the quarterly results, Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook was both coy and playful when analysts asked questions trying to tease out more detail about Apple’s planned announcement in San Francisco later this week. “I wouldn’t want to take away your joy of surprise on Wednesday when you see our latest creation,” Cook said in response to one question.

Mac Sales — The iPhone may be getting more attention than the Mac these days and account for a larger percentage of Apple’s sales, but don’t count the Mac out yet. In Q1 2010, Apple sold 3.36 million Macs, which was up 33 percent from the 2.5 million that Apple sold in the year-ago quarter. That’s once again a record number of sales, and the sales growth is twice the market rate, according to Cook. He also noted that half of Mac buyers in Apple’s retail stores are purchasing a Mac for the first time.

Although laptops continue to outsell desktops (accounting for 63 percent of all Mac sales), the new iMac models that appeared in late 2009 increased the desktop percentage from 28 percent in the year-ago quarter to 37 percent now. On the downside, the net sales per Mac sold dropped by 6 percent, from $1,412 a year ago to $1,324 in this quarter, which means that Apple is earning less per Mac than they did last year.

Mac sales are also strong internationally, with increases of 100 percent in China; 40 percent or more in France, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain; and 70 percent in Australia.

The Mac accounted for $4.45 billion of Apple’s sales, compared to $3.34 billion for the iPod and a whopping $5.58 billion for the iPhone. The iTunes Store and other music-related products and services added $1.16 billion to the bottom line; peripherals and other hardware contributed $469 million; and software and services chipped in $631 million.

iPhone and iPod Sales — Apple sold 8.7 million iPhones during the quarter, up from 7.4 million during the previous quarter, and double the 4.3 million iPhones sold in the year-ago quarter. Cook and Peter Oppenheimer (Apple senior vice president and chief financial officer) noted that 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies are currently deploying or testing deployments of the iPhone, a blatant rebuff to analysts who claim that the iPhone isn’t suited for corporate environments.

Following a trend of the past several quarters, the total number of iPods sold, 21 million, declined 8 percent compared to the year-ago quarter. However, despite the company not breaking out revenue or unit sales of specific models, Apple did say that sales of the iPod touch were up 55 percent from the previous year, and that the iPod still boasts 70 percent of the market share of MP3 players.

Our guess is that the iPod has reached a point where many of those likely to buy an iPod already have one, and the technology (in the core iPod line) hasn’t changed enough to cause people to replace older models. That said, the iPod touch is clearly the bright spot here, causing Apple’s net sales per iPod sold – dollars per unit – to increase to $162 from $148 in the year-ago quarter.

The biggest change regarding iPhone sales – which also affected the Apple TV – is a change by the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board that establishes practices in how firms record and report revenue and expenses. The old standards required that revenue from the initial price of products with expected routine software upgrades be accounted for on a subscription basis.

Under the old standards, instead of the sale being recognized and included in a report for the quarter in which an iPhone or Apple TV was purchased, Apple divvied up the revenue and associated costs over 24 months or 8 quarters. The standards change allowed Apple to assign a dollar value to the software upgrades – $25 for the iPhone and $10 for the Apple TV – and account for all revenue and expense except that amount in the quarter in which a device was sold.

Apple filed revised statements with the SEC for previous years back to Q1 2007 in order to provide – sorry – apples-to-apples comparisons for year-over-year differences that use the same underlying financial assumptions.

This doesn’t change the amount of money made by Apple at the end of each day, but it does make it easier to read Apple’s quarterly filings and understand how much the firm made on current products sold. Apple also said it would no longer release a separate set of numbers – called non-GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) – because the GAAP numbers are now good enough.

Adam Engst 2 comments

Amazon Opens Kindle to Developers, Changes Royalties

Amazon has announced that it is opening the Kindle – until now essentially just an ebook reading device – to software developers to create what Amazon is calling “active content.” Developers can learn more about the Kindle Development Kit now and sign up to be notified when the beta starts next month. “Active content” will be available for free, as one-time purchases, and as subscriptions. Royalty rates weren’t given, but are likely to be comparable with what Apple pays for iPhone apps.

Amazon is likely beating around the bush to avoid the term “app” because the Kindle’s E-Ink screen is simply too slow for much of what we – and most others – would consider an “app.” Apple may not own the term for software running on the iPhone and iPod touch, but it has certainly set a minimum standard for what an app must be capable of, and the Kindle isn’t up to that bar.

I can’t imagine that Kindle apps will be capable of much more than a refreshable Web page; perhaps acceptable for something like the Zagat guide mentioned in Amazon’s press release or a crossword puzzle, but not much more. Worse, the Kindle’s input mechanisms – a few buttons and a tremendously awkward keyboard, plus a roller bar on the original Kindle and a stubby joystick on the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX for making selections – won’t lend themselves to much interactivity. It’s unclear how the Kindle’s free Whispernet 3G networking will be made available to developers, given the 15-cent-per-MB delivery cost Amazon quotes for books.

Lastly, the capabilities of the Kindle Development Kit seem questionable to me, given that Amazon itself hasn’t yet been able to create a decent Web browser, and the Kindle ebook display code can’t even handle HTML tables.

While I don’t doubt that Amazon had the idea of opening up the Kindle to developers early on, as Ian Freed, vice-president for Kindle at Amazon, told the New York Times, it seems clear that the timing of the announcement is aimed directly at stealing some of the thunder away from Apple’s upcoming announcement of what is widely expected to be a tablet device. Although we won’t know until Wednesday if Amazon’s move is likely to have a dampening effect on Apple’s news, we’re not betting on it.

Amazon also announced that it would be changing the royalty structure for authors and publishers who use the Kindle Digital Text Platform to publish ebooks. For books whose list price is $9.99 or less, Amazon will offer a royalty rate of 70 percent of list price (after a delivery charge that Amazon says averages about 6 cents per book). Books whose list price is higher than $9.99 or that don’t meet other requirements of Amazon’s new royalty structure will still fall under the standard royalty, which is 35 percent of list price.

As with the announcement of the Kindle Development Kit, the new royalty structure seems to be a response to Apple’s 70 percent royalty for iPhone apps, perhaps because Amazon is worried about traditional publishers jumping ship for whatever Apple announces next week. Let’s hope that if Apple’s announcement does encompass publishing, individual authors and small publishers like TidBITS Publishing are allowed in, just as the App Store has been open to all developers.

Had Amazon shipped the Kindle with the Kindle Development Kit and offered a 70 percent royalty back in November 2007 (see “Comparing Amazon’s Kindle to the iPhone and Sony Reader,” 19 November 2007), well before Apple had opened the iPhone up to developers, it might have made more of a splash. As it is, these changes are merely fighting a rearguard action, although they will be welcome to authors and publishers who can now double their revenue from Kindle ebook sales.

Adam Engst 21 comments

Firefox 3.6 Adds Trendy Shiny Stuff (But Is Still Good)

For the record, I like Firefox. I like the way you can type anything in the address bar and get good results, I like the way it can automatically reopen tabs after being quit, and I like the fact that its searches look inside textarea fields in Web apps. It’s my main Web browser.

So when Firefox 3.6 was released last week, I happily went looking for release notes, hoping to find something that would make Firefox even more useful to me. The good news is that Mozilla claims that Firefox 3.6 is 20 percent faster than 3.5, form autocomplete now lists items in order based on a combination of frequency and recentness, and tabs opened from links can (but don’t have to) appear next to the current tab. I’ll have to see if this final feature is worthwhile, but when you have a lot of tabs open, having a new one appear way off to the right-hand edge of the tab list can be awkward. Nice stuff, but not game

A couple of features should make Firefox 3.6 more secure, most notably the program’s capability to alert you to out-of-date and insecure plug-ins. (Plug-ins, not to be confused with extensions or themes, make it possible for Firefox to display an otherwise unsupported type of data, like QuickTime movies, or communicate with external hardware, like the Garmin Forerunner GPS watch.) When you click Find Updates from the Plugins view of the Add-ons window, Firefox sends you to the Plugin Check page, which displays the status of your plug-ins. The only problem is that Firefox was unable to determine the version of six of my ten plugins, even though three of them had the version number
in the name, rendering it relatively useless. And although it claimed the other four plug-ins were up to date, two of them (Silverlight and Shockwave Flash) actually had minor updates available when I clicked the Up to Date button. My confidence is not inspired.

Other changes are aimed at Web developers, who can now indicate that scripts should run asynchronously to speed up page load times, and can now specify downloadable Web fonts using the new WOFF font format. Firefox 3.6 also includes support for new CSS attributes such as gradients, background sizing, and pointer events; plus support for the new DOM and HTML5 specifications. Those last two should enable Web apps to incorporate both drag-and-drop and access to the local filesystem, further blurring the line between Web and desktop applications. Finally, Firefox 3.6 eliminates a legacy method that third-party software could use to tie into the program to reduce the incidence of crashes
caused by that software.

Then there were changes that I’m sure someone will appreciate, but which I personally can’t see myself using, such as Full Screen mode, which might be useful in kiosks. Ogg/Theora videos can now be viewed full-screen as well, though I’m not sure I’ve ever run across one of those. And while I guess it’s nice that the private browsing feature now removes TEMP files, that seems largely of utility on public and shared systems.

Personas — All of these features probably sound pretty minor, and indeed they are. But Mozilla apparently decided it needed something sexier for the Firefox 3.6 release, and so came up with “personas.” As you may or may not know, Firefox supports themes, a way of changing the visual appearance of the program. In Firefox 3.5 and earlier, finding and installing themes worked much like finding and installing extensions – you had to find the theme somewhere on the Web (possibly in Mozilla’s add-on directory), click an install button on the page, and restart Firefox. User-friendly it wasn’t.

So with Firefox 3.6, Mozilla has introduced personas, which, as far as I can tell, are simply a graphic that replaces the standard gray background behind toolbars, tabs, and other window dressing at the top of the Firefox window. Personas appear to be minimal themes; you can manage them in the Themes view of the Add-ons window, but they don’t modify Firefox’s button types or dialogs, which themes can do. And where full themes still require that you jump through the install/restart hoop, personas can be previewed simply by moving your cursor over a thumbnail and don’t require that you restart Firefox (presumably because it’s really easy to change the look of a window, but much harder to modify buttons and the like).

Now, I don’t want to come off as a complete fuddy-duddy, but after previewing 30 or 40 personas, I can’t see anyone who relies on toolbar buttons and tabs using them. Mozilla advertises that there are over 30,000 designs in the Personas Gallery, but a few minutes of testing makes it clear that it’s nearly impossible to find a persona that looks good without obscuring text in toolbar buttons and tab titles. Awkwardly, many personas need the vertical height afforded by additional toolbars showing – I have the 1Password and Google toolbars – but all that extra text offset against an image just exacerbates the readability problem.

For example, the Fractal Elemental persona, which is an undeniably cool image, renders the text on my toolbars nearly unreadable. And the Martin Luther King Day “Keep Climbing” persona is barely visible at all if I turn off my Bookmarks, 1Password, and Google toolbars. I didn’t have to search hard for examples that fail; these two were both featured on the main page of the Personas Gallery.

The Personas Gallery reports how many people are using each persona, and some of them are quite popular, with thousands of active users. (The most popular persona had 208,000 users when I first drafted this article, and the next one had 54,000 users; three days later, those numbers have fallen to 176,000 and 46,000, and the overall popularity numbers drop off fast from there.) Regardless, the massive usability problems caused by personas make painfully clear just why Apple has never embraced themes in Mac OS X. I’m not saying there couldn’t be good personas, or even that there aren’t, among the 30,000 that are available. But the fact that there are so many thousands of
personas guaranteed to cause visual conniptions shows just why professional interface designers can find jobs.

My advice? Feel free to try out some personas, but unless you quickly hit on one that’s both attractive with whatever vertical space your toolbar choice affords while not horribly obscuring toolbar and tab text, give the feature a pass.

Otherwise, Firefox 3.6 seems like a fine update to an already capable Web browser, and if you already use it, I see no reason to put off upgrading. (Well, as is always the case with Firefox, a new version will require some extensions to be updated, so if you rely on a particular extension that hasn’t yet been updated, like Google Gears, you might want to wait for that.) But Firefox 3.6 is certainly nothing so special to make a happy Safari user want to switch. Personally, I’m running Firefox, Safari, and Chrome all simultaneously now, and you know what? They’re all pretty much fine, with minor strengths and weaknesses but no glaring differences.

Firefox 3.6 for Mac OS X is a 17.6 MB download, at least in the English (US) version, and it requires Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or later.

Joe Kissell 6 comments

Apple Updates Boot Camp for Windows 7

After many months of beta testing, Microsoft finally shipped Windows 7 on 22 October 2009. Just days later, Apple stated that their Boot Camp software (which allows Intel-based Macs to boot into either Mac OS X or Windows) would be updated to support Windows 7 by the end of the year. Up to that point, Boot Camp supported only Windows XP (SP2 or later) and Windows Vista, and although some people had limited success installing Windows 7, a number of bugs and compatibility issues were reported. Apple has finally made good on the promise of Windows 7 support in Boot Camp – albeit a few weeks late and with a number of caveats.

First, before you can even download the updated software, you must decide whether you’ll run the 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows 7 – Apple offers a different Boot Camp update for each. Boot Camp 3.1 for Windows 64 bit is a mere 275 MB download, whereas Boot Camp 3.1 for Windows 32 bit weighs in at 381 MB. Either version lets users install the Home, Premium, or Professional edition of Windows 7 on a separate partition of their Mac’s internal hard disk. In addition, the updates resolve unspecified issues with the Apple trackpad, add support for the Apple wireless keyboard and mouse, and disable the red digital audio port LED on notebooks
when it’s not in use.

Second, for reasons Apple hasn’t explained, not all Intel-based Macs can run Windows 7 in Boot Camp; those that can’t are still limited to Windows XP or Vista. Apple’s list of unsupported models includes certain iMacs, MacBook Pros, and Mac Pros introduced in 2006; all newer Macs should be able to run Windows 7 just fine.

Third, users who previously had Vista installed in Boot Camp and now want to upgrade to Windows 7 must install the new Boot Camp Utility for Windows 7 Upgrade (after the Boot Camp 3.1 upgrade but before installing Windows 7). Without this update, the Mac volume (which appears as read-only under Vista) may fail to unmount during the upgrade, resulting in an obscure error message.

And finally, certain Macs need one or two additional updates to work with Windows 7 in Boot Camp (which must also be applied before installing the new operating system):

  • Owners of a late-2009 21.5-inch or 27-inch iMac must download and install the iMac Late 2009 Windows 7 Drivers, which prevent the screen from turning black during the installation of Windows 7 because the system lacks the necessary graphics and Bluetooth drivers. The update is 104 MB, and is available either via Software Update or as a stand-alone download. But note that installation is unusually tricky. Users must download the update, copy it to an MS-DOS-formatted USB device, and insert that device into the computer’s USB slot before installing Windows 7. More information regarding this update is available via Apple’s Web site.
  • Owners of iMac models with the Nvidia GeForce 7300 or 7600 GT graphics cards, or Mac Pro models with Nvidia GeForce 7300 GT or Quadro FX 4500 cards, must install the Graphics Firmware Update 1.0 (iMac and Mac Pro). Apple doesn’t say exactly why, or what this update does, but it’s only 1.2 MB.

Of course, none of these updates are necessary if you want to run Windows 7 using virtualization software such as VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop, or VirtualBox. Given the convenience of running Windows this way – no reboot required to switch operating systems – virtualization is increasingly the more logical technique.

Joe Kissell 33 comments

Solving the Photoshop Elements Color Shift Problem

Numerous users of Adobe’s Photoshop Elements have had the frustrating experience of editing a photo, saving it, and uploading it to a Web site, only to discover that the colors – which look great in the original image – appear mysteriously washed out when the photo is viewed in a browser. I spent a great deal of time trying to track down this problem’s cause and solution, and in the process learned tons of things I never imagined I’d need to know about color profiles, browser variations, and the peculiarities of Photoshop Elements’ various methods of saving files. (And, to cut to the chase, I also learned that Elements itself can’t actually solve this problem effectively, but
that the less-expensive GraphicConverter can, if you know exactly what you’re doing.)

If you’ve ever encountered this problem – or if you never realized you did, but do once I show you what to look for – I believe I can offer you some helpful advice. If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to read about French pastries and the nitty-gritty details of how color profiles work, you can skip ahead to “How You Can Actually Solve the Problem (with Caveats!),” but if you stick with me for some background information, I think you’ll find it worthwhile. There are a lot of words here, but once you get everything set up as I describe, you can do the actual conversion of files into a working format in about two seconds, with as little as one click. You don’t have to go through any sort of long process every time, but I think the more
you understand what you’re doing, the better you’ll be able to adapt if and when things don’t work just as you expect.

Cookshop Elements — Long before I moved to France, I was a regular reader of David Lebovitz’s blog. For a number of years, David was a pastry chef at the famous Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, founded by the legendary Alice Waters. Then he moved to Paris, where he has been writing books about desserts, giving chocolate tours, and blogging about his experiences in France (with, of course, an emphasis on food). And, being an intelligent and sophisticated person, he’s naturally a Mac user.

Given our common interests in food (especially dessert), Macs, and Paris, I was keen to meet David, but for some reason I didn’t manage to do so until this past summer, by which point I’d been here about two years. I went to a book signing David held at a local cookbook store, picked up an autographed copy of “The Sweet Life in Paris,” and had a nice chat with him. When I mentioned what I do for a living, he immediately said, “Oh, then maybe you can help me with a Photoshop Elements problem I’ve been having.” I assured him that I’d do my best – I’m an Elements user myself, my colleague and TidBITS Managing Editor Jeff Carlson has written books about it, and I would consider it a professional failure if I couldn’t help solve some common technical issue with the program. I gave him my email address, and he later sent me details of the problem.

The problem he described to me – supplemented with sample photos and a long list of URLs pointing to online discussions among other Elements users having similar difficulties – amounts to the following. You have some great photo that you’ve retouched to perfection in Photoshop Elements (or another image editing program). The color looks lovely and vivid on your camera’s display, in iPhoto, in Elements, and even in Preview. But by the time it gets onto the Web and appears in a browser, something has happened.

Compare the photo on the Web side-by-side with the original on your Mac and you can see that it has acquired a dull, flatter appearance. As you’ll understand soon, the effect is a bit tricky to replicate in some setups, but I can offer an example image that shows the problem – the color as intended on the left side, and as it appears in Firefox 3.0 on the right. (Note that I say “as intended” rather than “original” because I deliberately altered the original photo to emphasize the problem.)


Now, depending on what sorts of photos you take and how you use them, this effect – if you even notice it – may not bother you at all. Furthermore, the effect doesn’t occur with all cameras or file formats, and may depend on if or in what way you’ve processed the photo in Photoshop Elements or another program. But if you’re, say, a professional food writer and you want to make sure your blog readers can see just how beautiful those ripe tomatoes or peaches are, it’s a pretty big deal.

David had a hunch that he might not have been saving photos correctly – Elements has both Save As and Save for Web commands, which behave differently from each other, though both offer many options that can be puzzling for the average citizen. Fiddling with his saving procedure didn’t help, though. After many hours of Googling, trying tips people had suggested on discussion forums, and contacting Adobe directly – the company claimed that Elements wasn’t doing anything wrong and offered no further help – David was getting mighty frustrated and hoped I could find a solution for him.

At the beginning of my investigations, I had no idea what was causing this problem. David suspected Photoshop Elements was doing something wrong, but also thought the problem could have something to do with Flickr (where his photos were hosted), with the uploading process, or with his blogging software. So I first read what I could find about the issue on the Web and then did lots of experiments, starting with one of the photos in exactly the form it came from his camera. I processed it in various ways, saved and uploaded it in various ways, and displayed it in various browsers. Once I was able to replicate the washed-out appearance, I did quite a few more experiments to see if I could figure out what caused the problem and if there was
some way to avoid it.

How Color Profiles Do (and Don’t) Work — As I discovered during my tests, the problem has to do with something called a “color profile” – which to that point I had only the vaguest notion of. Let me summarize some facts about color profiles that I gleaned from reading the various discussions of this problem David told me about.

The original JPEG image from David’s camera (and from many other cameras) contains not only the raw data of an image – this pixel is this color, that pixel is that color – but also a chunk of metadata called a “color profile,” put there by the camera, that specifies how a viewing program should interpret the colors. (The particular profile David’s camera adds to its pictures tells programs viewing them to increase the saturation, among other things, so that colors look brighter and richer than what the raw image data would produce. Other cameras’ profiles may behave differently.) Photoshop – regular or Elements – can read that profile just fine (it also lets you switch among various profiles, or remove a profile from a photo
altogether), and so can Preview and Safari, so the colors look the way you expect them to when you’re looking at the original image in any of those programs.

In addition, if you adjust an image in Photoshop (Elements or otherwise) and choose just the right combination of settings when using either Save As or Save for Web, you can make sure your saved or exported graphic also has an appropriate color profile, so that it’ll again look perfect in all programs that correctly read the profile.

All this means that if you and the other people looking at your site always use Safari (which supports color profiles), the solution would be simple, because the only necessary step would be to make sure you have the right things checked or unchecked with whichever sort of save you happen to do. Then the color profile gets embedded in the saved image, and it looks the same in a Web page as it does in Photoshop Elements on your Mac.

But, of course, not everyone uses Safari. Firefox 3.5 (though not earlier versions of Firefox) is also supposed to read these profiles, although in my experiments it didn’t do so consistently. (I haven’t had any problems with the just-released Firefox 3.6, for what it’s worth.) Meanwhile, Internet Explorer on Windows and most other browsers appear to ignore the profiles altogether. So, except for Safari users and a few other lucky souls with smart and up-to-date browsers, it wouldn’t ultimately matter if you did all the right things to make sure the right profile is preserved and included when you save the image.

In short, although color profiles are a dandy idea in theory, and they’re just fine as long as you stay within the camera/Mac/Safari universe, they may not help you at all when you step outside those bounds. No matter what you do, if you’re relying on a profile to make an image’s colors look the way you expect them to, and you view that image in a program that doesn’t respect the profiles, they won’t look right.

How One Should Be Able to (but Can’t Really) Solve the Problem — So, if you can’t rely on a color profile, because a lot of programs just ignore it, then how do you get images to look like they should if the profile were being honored?

In principle, the solution is simple. Your photo editing software should remove the profile, but then modify the raw pixel data to give the colors the same boost that they would have received if the profile had been present and used. If this process were carried out, and it worked correctly, then the result would be that the image would look the same in any program. The image wouldn’t have a profile, but it also wouldn’t need one, because all the information provided by the profile would be merged into the original image. That way it would be irrelevant whether a browser ignored the profile.

Any reasonable person would assume that part of Photoshop Elements’ Save for Web feature would do exactly this – merge the color profile into the image itself. But, it absolutely does not do so – and it’s unclear whether it’s not doing so because it wasn’t designed to do that, or because it’s broken. Either way, it doesn’t happen.

Various Web sites proposed an assortment of occult procedures one can allegedly perform in Elements to persuade it to merge the color profile. I tried them all. I burned the incense, sacrificed to the appropriate gods and devils, bowed and prayed toward Mountain View, and also employed highly geeky trickery that wasn’t even hinted at by any of those sites, but Elements staunchly refused to merge the profiles.

The full version of Photoshop has lots of extra thingies that, I’d been led to believe, might possibly fix the problem for real. But I don’t have the full version of Photoshop to try it out, and anyway by this point I was fed up with Adobe and their uncooperative programs, and David had said he didn’t want to shell out the cash for the full version of Photoshop anyway. So I started exploring other paths.

I tried several other image editors, including (of course) iPhoto and the spiffy Acorn, but they all behaved exactly the same as Elements. In fact, I even read that Apple’s Aperture and Adobe’s Lightroom have this problem! Technically, none of the programs is doing anything wrong – I mean, they leave the color profile in place if there is one, under what would in normal situations be the logical assumption that any program that needed to use the profile would do so. So, Adobe isn’t exactly lying when they say there’s no problem. Elements isn’t removing any data or
changing the image, it’s just that it’s failing to (offer to optionally) do something that’s obviously necessary in the majority of real-world situations. And so is nearly every other photo editor. Thus, any of the above developers could make the argument that they’re simply following industry standard behavior, although to do so would be to demonstrate oblivious indifference to their customers’ needs.

How You Can Actually Solve the Problem (with Caveats!) — Well, I kept looking and experimenting, and I eventually found one Mac program, Lemkesoft’s venerable GraphicConverter ($34.95), that not only offers an explicit “Merge Color Profile” feature, but which, shockingly, actually works! I tested it a bunch of different times in numerous different configurations, and every time, it worked correctly. I could view an image in Safari, or Firefox, or whatever, and it always looked exactly like the original – bright colors and all. Yay!

In case you’re unfamiliar with GraphicConverter, despite its name, it’s actually a full-featured photo editor, with a range of features comparable to Photoshop. I told David he could stop using Elements and start using GraphicConverter if he wanted to, and could probably get the desired end result. However, I suspected he may react as I did, which was to look at the program’s weird, and rather anachronistic, user interface, and go “Ack!” It’s just not pretty. In fact, I find it rather obtuse once you get into anything slightly outside the norm. If you don’t mind the interface and the learning curve, that’s fine, but many people (quite understandably) prefer Photoshop’s more modern and (usually) elegant approach.

The good news is that – going back to what the program’s name suggests – you can set it up (after a fashion) to do drag-and-drop file conversion. So, you do whatever you usually do in iPhoto, Elements, or whatever, but then, after saving the file in Elements but before uploading it to your Web site, you drop it on an icon, let GraphicConverter do its thing (which takes about a second), and it spits out a file that looks exactly like the original but has the color profile merged into the image itself.

In just a bit, I’ll explain both techniques: doing GraphicConverter’s version of a Save As command that merges the profile, and setting things up so that you can just do the drag-and-drop conversion.

A Brief Detour: Making Sure Elements Saves Your Profiles — For the process I’m about to explain to work, your photos must still have their color profiles. (The fact that an image looks right in Elements doesn’t necessarily mean the profile is still intact, because Elements can apply its own version of a color profile behind the scenes when an image doesn’t already have one. Grrrr.) If you’ve opened an image in Elements and done whatever you want to do to it, you must be sure to save it in a way that keeps the profile intact. You can do that with either Save As or Save for Web, but either way, make sure you do it. (And, if you’ve already accidentally saved an image without a profile, skip to the end of this
detour for a solution.)

To keep a profile using Save As:

  1. With an image open in Elements, choose File > Save As.
  2. Make sure the Embed Color Profile box is checked and Format is set to JPEG. Make whatever other changes you want (name, location, etc.) and click Save. Set your preferred JPEG options and click OK.

To keep a profile using Save for Web:

  1. With an image open in Elements, choose File > Save for Web.
  2. In the Preset area in the upper right corner, make sure JPEG shows in the pop-up menu of formats. Below that, make sure the ICC Profile box is checked. Then (this is the highly non-obvious part) click the little button, which looks like a triangle in a circle, that’s just to the left of the Help button (not the similar one in the upper right corner of the Preset area) and make sure there’s a check mark next to Use Document Color Profile. If not, select that. Then make whatever other changes you want and click OK.

All of this assumes that the photo you’re dealing with still has a profile embedded in it. What if a photo has already lost its profile? The actual pixels are no different, and it might look fine in Elements, but if you want the image to retain its appearance when it’s viewed in most Web browsers, you must first reapply a profile and then perform a few other steps. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to reapply the original profile from your camera. But, you can apply a different profile that’s probably quite close, and that’ll at least get you in the ballpark. Here’s how:

  1. With an image open in Elements, choose Image > Convert Color Profile > Apply sRGB Profile (not “Apply Adobe sRGB Profile”!). Note: If that menu command is unavailable, choose Remove Profile first, and then it’ll be re-enabled.
  2. Save the image in either of the above ways.

The “Save As” Method — Allrighty. On to using GraphicConverter to merge profiles.

  1. Open a photo (either one that’s fresh off your camera, or one you’ve dragged from iPhoto, or one you’ve already messed with in Elements) in GraphicConverter. (The first time you open it, it’ll prompt you to install a bunch of extra stuff, which you can either do or not. It doesn’t matter, for our purposes. And, if you’re running the demo version, without having paid for a license, you have to wait until a counter runs out before you can actually use the program.) If you feel like doing any further fiddling with the graphic, do so now.
  2. Choose File > Save As.
  3. From the Format pop-up menu, choose JPEG/JFIF (*.JPG, *.JPEG).
  4. Check the “Merge color profile into image (for web usage)” box. Leave the other checkboxes as they are.
  5. Name the file and navigate to wherever you want to save it, as usual.
  6. Click Save.
  7. In the dialog that appears, move the Quality slider to whatever you want, which is probably all the way to 100. Leave everything else set the way it is. Click OK.
  8. Lather, rinse, repeat with any additional images.

The “Drag and Drop” Method — This method requires some weird initial setup, but after that, it’s just drag and drop.

The one-time-only setup:

  1. In GraphicConverter, choose File > Convert & Modify.
  2. The pop-up menu at the top should say Convert. If it doesn’t, make it so.
  3. Choose JPEG/JFIF (*.JPG, *.JPEG) from the Dest. Format pop-up menu.
  4. Check the WWW Ready box if it isn’t already checked.
  5. Click the Options button. Drag the slider to the quality you want, probably 100. Click OK.
  6. Check the Use Batches box if it isn’t already checked, which it probably isn’t.
  7. Click the Edit Batches button. In the Batch window that appears, scroll down in the Possible Functions list on the left to Merge Profile into Image. Select that and click Add. Then, go back to the Possible Functions list, select Change Format, and click Add again. Now select Change Format in the Batch Table list, and a new Format pop-up menu appears at the bottom of the window. Choose JPEG/JFIF (*.JPG, *.JPEG) from this menu too. Click the Save button, type in the name “Merge”, do not touch anything else, and click Save. Then click OK.
  8. Close the Convert & Modify window.
  9. Download an AppleScript droplet I wrote, “Merge Profiles,” and put it in some convenient place, such as your Applications folder or your Desktop. (If it’s still zipped – i.e., “Merge” – double-click it first to unzip it.) This droplet tells GraphicConverter to use the “Merge” batch function you created in Step 7 to convert whatever files are dropped on it.

The actual use:

  1. Drop one or more photos in need of a merged profile onto the “Merge Profiles” icon.
  2. GraphicConverter will launch if it’s not already running, and a dialog will pop up asking whether you want to rename or overwrite the file(s). Assuming you want to modify the actual files you dropped, click Overwrite for each one.
  3. There is no Step 3. Your photo(s) have been converted.

Note that I could have written the script differently – so that, for example, it never even thinks about touching your originals and instead just copies the converted photos to another folder at the location of your choice. Then you’d be able to skip Step 2, but you’d have two copies (before and after) of each graphic, which may or may not be what you want. If you’d like something like that, you can of course modify the AppleScript droplet yourself – I leave the details as an exercise for the reader.

How to Prove to Yourself that this Whole Thing Is Working — When all is said and done, you don’t want to go through all this hassle only to find that you’re still not getting the results you expect. So I suggest trying this quick test first just to verify that everything is working.

  1. Take some original image from your camera that clearly shows the problem. (It seems to be most noticeable with bright reds.)
  2. Open the image in Photoshop Elements and do whatever sorts of things you’d normally do to it.
  3. Save the file (using either Save As or Save for Web – but being sure to include the profile, as described above).
  4. Upload the file to Flickr (or your favorite Web-accessible location).
  5. Open two browsers: Safari and Firefox 3.0.x (or any other browser that doesn’t deal correctly with color profiles). Go to the Flickr page showing your newly uploaded image in both browsers, side by side.
  6. You should see that the colors are correct in Safari but dimmer in Firefox.
  7. Now take that same file you saved in Step 3 and drop it on Merge Profiles.
  8. Upload the modified file to Flickr, and now open that image in both Safari and Firefox. You should find that they look the same.

Digestif — After going through this elaborate effort of learning about profiles and developing this solution, I explained to David what I’d discovered. Understandably, he was perturbed that he couldn’t get Elements – which he otherwise liked a great deal – to just do what it ought to do, and also disappointed that he’d have to pay for, install, and use yet another program. While I have nothing but sympathy for all those annoyances, my proposed solution was the best I could come up with.

A couple of months later, I ran into David again and he was excited to tell me that his problem had gone away – although not, alas, thanks to my solution. He’d decided to install the full version of Photoshop, and without changing anything in his workflow, he found that the problem no longer occurred (or, at least, was not nearly as noticeable).

This was a bit anticlimactic for me; I was glad he’d solved his problem, and although I didn’t particularly care whether he used my solution or not, I still don’t know what the full version of Photoshop does differently that apparently ameliorates the problem – or why that capability, whatever it is, is absent in Elements. Still, I got to cross “Meet David Lebovitz” off my 2009 to-do list, and learned quite a bit about graphics, so I count the whole undertaking as a success. And, if my discoveries can help anyone else with the same problem, that is, as they say, the icing on the cake.

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TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 25 January 2010

Phone Amego 1.1.9 — Sustainable Softworks has issued some minor feature improvements and bug fixes in the latest release of Phone Amego, the utility that enables you to control a Bluetooth mobile phone (including the iPhone) from a Mac (for more details, see “Phone Amego: the Macintosh/iPhone Mind Meld,” 3 September 2009). Version 1.1.9 now supports Caller ID with Linksys/Sipura VoIP phone adapters, improves phone number formatting by following Address Book conventions, displays any Google Voice “number to ring” in both the main window and tooltip, and enables users to send
SMS messages without leaving the keyboard (you can now tab over to the Send button). Also, bugs related to Call Waiting Caller ID, dialing international number formats, and calls that lack Caller ID information have been addressed. ($20, free update, 2 MB)

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Firmware Restoration CD 1.8 — In keeping with past efforts, Apple has released a Firmware Restoration CD for early 2009 Mac Pro and Xserve models. The CD can be used to restore your computer’s firmware in the event of an unsuccessful or interrupted update, though if that’s already happened, you’ll need to download the disc image and create a CD on another computer or bring your machine to an Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider. The CD can be made on any Mac, but can be used only on the supported models. (Free, 22.5 MB)

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Things 1.2.9 — Victims of buggy behavior will be thankful for the latest release of Cultured Code’s popular task manager Things, which fixes a number of irritating issues. Version 1.2.9 addresses a regression related to a sync conflict issue with the Today list, fixes lingering issues with a bug that occasionally caused Things to open with a blank window and remain unresponsive, and resolves a problem wherein searching for tags with subtags returned blank search results. The update also enables users to empty the Trash immediately by holding down the Option key while choosing the Empty Trash menu command, fixes unspecified issues with the French and Japanese
localizations, and prevents to-do titles from having multiple lines. ($49.95, free upgrade, 8.4 MB)

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Spell Catcher 10.3.3 — It’s been some time since we last checked in with Rainmaker Research’s system-wide spell-checking utility Spell Catcher X, but the longstanding program is alive and well, having recently been updated to version 10.3.3. Changes include compatibility with Snow Leopard, support for 64-bit applications, expanded import capabilities, additional preference settings, a new German localization, and auto-save capabilities for reference documents. Version 10.3.3 also includes the latest Proximity Linguistic System (which ensures the program is drawing from up-to-date spelling databases), enhances DirectCorrect and program launch performance speeds, and
tweaks the program code to improve handling of documents and error reports. A full list of changes is available on Rainmaker’s Web site. ($39.95 new, free update, 22 MB)

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TextWrangler 3.1 — While it can’t compete with its older and more powerful sibling BBEdit, TextWrangler from Bare Bones Software continues to provide cash-strapped users with a solid text editor. The latest version, 3.1, has hit the Internet’s shelves with a long list of improvements and fixes. At the top are a new Unix command for searching across multiple files from the command line, the capability to create new files and folders on remote servers from within the embedded FTP/SFTP browser, and a new Unlearn Spelling command for when misspellings have accidentally been added to the dictionary. Also, many minor bugs have been fixed, including a
handful of crashing bugs related to reading certain gzip files, opening the Multi-File Search window, and closing the Multi-File Search window after selecting certain search sources. The full and lengthy list of changes is available on the Bare Bones Web site. (Free, 12.1 MB)

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Mac Pro EFI Firmware Update 1.4 — Apple has released a firmware update that addresses a handful of issues on early 2009 Mac Pros. The update improves “compatibility with virtualization products utilizing VT-d, storage performance under Windows XP for Boot Camp users, and system reliability during the boot process.” To install the update, follow the instructions in the updater application that launches automatically after the installer has closed (/Application/Utilities/MacPro EFI Firmware More information regarding installing a firmware update on an Intel-based Mac is available on Apple’s Web site.
The update is available via Software Update and the Apple Support Downloads page. (Free, 1.96 MB)

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Xserve EFI Firmware Update 1.2 — Apple has also released a firmware update for early 2009 Xserve models that improves “compatibility with virtualization products utilizing VT-d and system reliability during the boot process.” More information regarding installing firmware updates on Intel-based Macs is available on Apple’s Web site. Instructions for updating a headless (i.e. without monitor) Xserve are also available. (Free, 1.81 MB)

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Security Update 2010-001 — Apple has reset the counters on security updates for 2010, releasing Security Update 2010-001, with fixes for a small number of specific vulnerabilities. Most notably, the Flash Player plug-in is updated to version 10.0.42 to address multiple vulnerabilities, the most serious of which could lead to arbitrary code execution when viewing a maliciously crafted Web site. Several other fixes block vulnerabilities that could have been exploited by malicious TIFF images, DNG images, and MP4 audio files. Also resolved is a potential denial-of-service attack
directed against CUPS (the Common Unix Printing System that underlies Mac OS X’s print architecture). Finally, OpenSSL is vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack that could enable an attacker to capture data or change the operations performed in an SSL-protected session; although the problem hasn’t been resolved within OpenSSL, Security Update 2010-001 disables renegotiation within OpenSSL as a preventative measure.

Security Update 2010-001 is available via Software Update and in standalone form for Mac OS X 10.6.2 Snow Leopard (21.9 MB download), for Mac OS X 10.5.8 Leopard (159.58 MB download), and for Mac OS X 10.5.8 Leopard Server (248.11 MB download).

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ExtraBITS for 25 January 2010

As we desperately try to ignore all the pointless speculation about what Apple may or may not announce this week, we found ourselves reading somewhat more broadly than usual. Google is updating high-resolution satellite images of Haiti to aid relief efforts, the White House has released an iPhone app, GigaOM collected lots of App Store stats into a single infographic, and the Stanford Hospital is using a cutting edge (from the 19th century) networking technology to move lab samples around the building.

Google Updates Satellite Images of Haiti — In the wake of Haiti’s recent earthquake, Google has updated its Google Maps satellite photos of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The new images, gathered on 17 January 2010, present a humbling view of the city’s destruction. Google made the images available in part to “assist relief efforts including those by many UN organizations and the Center for Interdisciplinary Geospatial Information Technologies.” We hope the images will also persist as reminders of Haiti’s need for support during its long road to recovery.

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White House Releases iPhone App — The White House, contributing a memorable moment to the history of mobile computing, has released its first-ever iPhone app. The free app gives users an easy way to keep up with the White House Blog, hear the latest from the Briefing Room, check out behind-the-scenes photos, and, most notably, watch live streaming video of speeches, press briefings, and special events. Amusingly, the app is available before the mobile-enabled version of the Web site.

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App Store Facts Get a Face Lift — Like any other certifiable success, the iTunes App Store has become a hot topic of discussion; the stats revolving in its orbit have been endlessly reported on and analyzed. For those tired of parsing regular graphs and summaries, take a moment to check out GigaOM’s infographic “The App Store Economy,” which brings a little visual zest to the familiar data.

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It Really Is a “Series of Tubes” — No, we’re not talking about former Senator Ted Stevens’s clumsy description of the Internet; this article from the Stanford School of Medicine Web site instead describes the wildly cool pneumatic tube system used by Stanford Hospital staff to send lab samples around at speeds up to 25 feet (7.6 m) per second – that’s roughly 18 miles (30 km) per hour. Pneumatic tube systems were cutting edge communication technology way back in the 19th century, but when it comes to transporting physical objects, they retain their utility even in today’s networked age.

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